In an announcement in Surrey, the Ministry of Health announced that the Northern Health region will see a 70 per cent increase in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams, the highest proportional increase of any health authority.
The announcement by Health Minister Adrian Dix was part of the B.C. government's efforts to cut wait times for MRI exams across the province. Overall the province will see an increase of 37,000 MRI exams by March 2019 compared to the previous year, according to a government media release. Today's announcement, part of the NDP government's surgical and diagnostic strategy announced last week, aims to increase the number of MRI exams from 188,000 conducted in the 2017-18 fiscal year to 225,000 in 2018-19. The increase in equipment and operating hours will cost $11 million.
According to a backgrounder issued by the Ministry of Health, Northern Health performed an estimated 7,632 MRI exams in 2017-18. The new funding will boost this number to 13,000 across the region by 2018-19.
Wait times in the northern region are some of the highest in the province. Half the population waits longer than 56 days for an MRI exam, the second longest wait time after Fraser Health. But 10 per cent of patients wait longer than 319 days, by far the longest wait time in B.C.
Overall in B.C., 50% of patients wait more than 41 days, while 10% of patients wait more than 199 days. At the end of 2016-17, B.C.'s per capita rate for MRI exams was 37 per 1,000 population, far below the national average of 55.5, according to the ministry.
The additional funding will not increase the number of MRI machines in the north, but will be focused on increasing staffing levels and expanding operating times for existing machines in the region, according to a Ministry spokesperson. Details of how many additional staff will be hired in the region have not been released.
"Wait times are simply too long in B.C., in part due to volumes that are 35% to 40% less than other provinces," Dix was quoted as saying in a media release.
"Increasing MRI exams by 37,000 exams in B.C. this year, with further increases planned for 2019-20, will reduce the uncertainty and pain caused by long waits. Our plan is to maximize resources and employ best practices in the public system to reduce wait times and improve care."
The Ministry of Health's surgical strategy set its sights on reducing wait times. So far, the Ministry has announced five hip and knee replacement programs to be implemented throughout the province. No specific information has been released about the northern component of these programs.