Staffing in the MRI department at Royal University Hospital has decreased to the point where health officials have decide to scale back hours of operation, creating concerns about wait times for the service.
A memo sent earlier this week to Saskatoon physicians and staff within the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) cites a “recent critical shortage of MRI technologists” due to “ongoing recruitment challenges.”
The shortage means the department at RUH will only operate from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily effective Monday. Urgent and emergent care will be available by on-call service after 4 p.m. The changes are in effect until further notice.
Previously, the department operated until midnight from Monday to Friday. Its weekend hours remain unchanged.
“(MRI technologists) are more difficult to recruit for many health care organizations in the country, including the SHA,” reads a statement attributed to Bryan Witt, executive director of diagnostic imaging with the health authority.
Witt cited a shortage of recent MRI graduates, a high number of staff on maternity leave and limited casual staff available to fill vacant shifts.
Another factor is “unanticipated staff attrition,” though Witt didn’t indicate where employees have gone.
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili, who is also a family doctor, said physicians have told him technologists have left to take jobs “in what they see as greener pastures.”
“The techs that know how to run MRI machines have been hired out of the public system and into the private user-pay system,” Meili said.
Saskatchewan operates an MRI system that allows patients to pay a private facility for an MRI scan, but they must also pay for a second scan for a person on the public waiting list.
At a time when tens of thousands of people in Saskatchewan wait for surgeries due to COVID-19-related delays, Meili said having fewer MRI appointments will only extend the wait.
“Instead of doing what the Sask. Party promised it would do – make things more accessible and shorten waitlists in the public system – it’s done the opposite,” Meili said.
The shortage isn’t surprising, given the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges and a lack of local training spaces for technologists, according to a statement from SEIU-West president Barbara Cape.
“We need to look at increasing the access to education opportunities; focusing on bringing training opportunities to Saskatchewan, not requiring our students to move out of province for their training,” Cape said.
She noted wages and working conditions for technologists and all health-care workers will also help keep staff within the public health system.
A request for comment from Health Minister Paul Merriman was not returned by deadline.