Shortage of techs leads to huge MRI wait list
March 8, 2023
WINNIPEG – Many Manitobans who need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests are in limbo after the health authority responsible for diagnostics stopped issuing appointments. Meanwhile, wait-times have reached a near two-year high in the province. Winnipeg dentist Jeff Bresler says he was ordered to go for an MRI by his epilepsy specialist in early December. Four months later, he still hasn’t received an appointment date.
“It causes great anxiety, fear of the unknown,” Bresler said.
He received a letter from Shared Health on Dec. 31 acknowledging the referral and noting a test date would be confirmed by mail within “several weeks.”
However, it was only after following up with the health authority last month that Bresler learned it would take “several months” to get an appointment confirmed.
“They have to provide timely diagnostic services to patients,” Bresler said at a news conference with Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard.
“Medicine is all about timely diagnosis and timely treatment, and that is not currently happening in this province,” Bresler said.
The median wait time for an MRI test was 17 weeks in December, according to the province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force. Waits have jumped by 70 percent from August 2022 and are the longest on record since March 2021, when waits were 26 weeks.
There were 20,149 people waiting for the test as of December 2022, representing a backlog of 3,753 cases compared to pre-pandemic wait-lists.
In an email exchange reviewed by the Free Press, Shared Health management told Bresler more than 1,000 requests for an MRI appointment at Grace Hospital had been received ahead of his. He was offered a spot on the cancellation list.
He was also told elective tests were historically booked within 14 days of receipt though the appointment may potentially be months away. However, increased demand for urgent tests had affected the capacity for elective tests.
“Shared Health management has lied to me and countless other Manitobans who received a letter such as I did,” Bresler said. “(Shared Health) is obligated to book all Manitobans who received a letter stating they would be provided an MRI confirmation within several weeks, immediately.”
Gerrard said the current wait times are unacceptable and Shared Health needs to begin issuing appointments to restore integrity to the health system.
“We must have a solution here – whether that solution means running the machines 24-7, sending people out of province, or buying new machines and getting them in place quickly. But there needs to be a solution,” Gerrard said.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon (pictured) later told reporters the increased wait times is due to staffing shortages.
“We are working quickly to address that,” Gordon said, noting her government plans to introduce incentives for allied health professionals. Gordon also said she would look further into the issues raised by Bresler.
“Individuals should be able to get an appointment and if that’s not being done, then I need to know why,” Gordon said.
In a statement, Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Jason Linklater said Shared Health has known that more MRI technologists are needed to reduce wait-times.
“MRI technologists are among the 6,500 allied health professionals still working under a contract that expired five years ago, which makes it next to impossible to recruit or retain them,” Linklater said.
“The longer the government ignores the contract situation, the more professionals we will lose, and the longer Manitobans will have to wait for MRIs and other essential services.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Shared Health said some exams are not immediately scheduled to avoid booking an appointment only to have it cancelled, owing to an increase in urgent tests. A combination of staffing vacancies and absences has affected overall wait times.
Recruitment of new MRI staff from Red River College and outside the province is occurring, the spokesperson said. A mobile MRI unit is expected to be operating at Victoria Hospital by 2024.
“We anticipate all these efforts combined will significantly help reduce wait times for Manitoba patients,” the spokesperson said. “Every attempt is being made to convey accurate wait-time information to patients as the situation has continually evolved.”
Source: Winnipeg Free Press