The B.C. government is buying two privately owned MRI clinics in the Fraser Valley in a bid to expand capacity and reduce waiting times in the public system.
On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Fraser Health will purchase Surrey MRI and Fraser Valley MRI Clinic in Abbotsford effective Oct. 1.
The acquisition was an imaginative and effective way to boost MRI services in the fast-growing Fraser Valley, which has one of the lowest rates of MRI use per capita in Canada, he said.
“We felt this was the most-efficient, cost-effective and immediate way to respond to wait-times, so that’s precisely what we did,” said Dix. “We were able to purchase these private MRI facilities, turn them around and have them operating in the public health-care system at a cost that is significantly less than building new MRI facilities.”
The purchase will add 10,000 more MRI exams a year at Fraser Health, and bumps up the health authority’s MRIs to nine, including seven currently in operation. In addition, three new MRIs are slated to begin operation next year in Ridge Meadows Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital and at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey.
Negotiations to purchase the clinics occurred over the last month, said Dix. He declined to say how much the province is paying for the clinics, citing confidentiality in the commercial deal.
Staff at the two clinics will become health authority employees and start seeing patients within a month.
In July, Surrey MRI joined an injunction to stop the government from implementing legislation on Oct. 1 that imposes penalties on doctors and private clinics for extra-billing for expedited treatment. The province granted a six-month extension to April 1 for private diagnostic clinics.
With the purchase of the Surrey clinic by the government, another clinic will likely have to step in to be the representative plaintiff in the application, said Dennis Hummerston, senior director of the Canada Diagnostic Centre, one of 17 private MRI clinics in B.C.
The injunction wasn’t part of the government’s consideration in buying the clinics, said Dix: “Our position was we wanted to improve the capacity of the public system and improve wait times and this does that.”
When asked whether the government plans to buy other private-imaging clinics as a strategy to increase its MRI capacity, Dix was noncommittal.
“We are going to use every option we can to improve service in the most cost-efficient way,” he said, noting he isn’t ruling out other purchases, but not ruling them in either.
The B.C. Health Coalition welcomed Monday’s announcement, saying the increased capacity represents a departure from years of inadequate action on MRI waiting times.
“For too long B.C. has allowed public MRI wait times to grow while allowing a market for private MRI clinics to flourish,” said co-chair Edith MacHattie. “Increasing the province’s ability to provide timely public MRI scans will play an important role in driving down surgical wait times.”
Dix said the province has worked to expand capacity in the existing system. It has boosted MRI operating hours by 802 hours a week, and had gone from one MRI machine operating 24/7 in the province to eight, including four at Fraser Health.
In 2016-17, the per-capita rate for MRIs in Fraser Health was 27 per 1,000 people, lagging behind the national average of 51. For 2018-19, the projected rate is 35 per 1,000 people. That figure doesn’t include the new MRIs purchased in Monday’s announcement, said the Health Ministry.
“Because wait times were so long, a lot of people feel they had to go outside the public system and pay more,” said Dix. “Now our challenge is to ensure the public system does what it is supposed to do, which is to provide timely care.”
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