Advocate says N.L. government's plan to improve MRI wait times is skimpy on details

Jennifer Carey is the Atlantic manager for the Canadian Association Medical Radiation Technologists in New Brunswick, and is concerned the shortage of available professionals in Newfoundland and Labrador will impact cancer in the future.
Medical radiation technologist and advocate Jennifer Carey is worried about growing wait times for MRIs in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

An advocate for MRI accessibility says the Newfoundland and Labrador government has not shared enough details on what it's doing to tackle the province's growing waitlist for the procedure.

Medical radiation technologist Jennifer Carey told CBC News the demand for the service has doubled in the province over the past decade.

"It's not terribly surprising that these numbers are high. It is unfortunate that this amount of people are waiting for their examination," said Carey, also the Atlantic region manager of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists.

In an email to CBC News, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services said there are 3,687 people scheduled for an MRI and an additional 3,278 people waiting to be scheduled in the Eastern-Urban zone, the province's most populous — about 7,000 people waiting in that zone alone.

Waitlist hurts patients: medical association

Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association president Dr. Stephen Major said the current wait time of two to three years for a routine MRI hurts patient care.

"It's not acceptable for patients to wait these extreme lengths of time to be cared for," said Major. MRI delays translate into treatment delays, he said, and can eliminate treatment options that might have been available if the MRI had been done sooner, he added.

The situation is bad enough that some patients faced with long wait times are choosing to pay out of pocket to travel to another province to get a scan, he said.

"It comes to the point that patients are deciding to take, you know, actions to go away, to actually get diagnostic investigations because they're afraid for their health."

Lack of technologists behind backlog

Carey said the backlog is increasing because demand is growing faster than capacity. It's not an issue of vacant positions, she said — new positions need to be created to meet the demand.

"When you don't have enough people to run the machines that exist in the province, this is the kind of problem that you get."

LISTEN | Medical radiation technologist Jennifer Carey says people are waiting too long for MRIs:

Carey said the government plans to tackle the problem by adding more MRI machines and funding people to get MRI certification and further education.

"But there hasn't been any sort of details announced as to how many are they planning to support," she said.

The government has expanded MRI hours to include evenings and weekends, she said, which means technologists are working longer hours.

"Expansion of service hours isn't a bad thing, but you need the [medical radiation technologists] and the professionals to be able to utilize and run the machine during those expanded hours."

The situation is also stressful for technologists, who want to be able to help people and are concerned over the growing waitlist, she said.

Major said MRI hours could be expanded even more, which would cut into wait times and have a big impact for patients in N.L.

"That's a political decision that they have, to feel that there's enough pressure from patients to make this operational. But it's not that they can't do it. They could make that happen," said Major.

Last week, CBC News asked for an interview with Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services or the Health Department. A spokesperson said the health authority was looking into the request and would be in touch. No response was received by publication.

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