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A nurse prepares the tube for a new MRI scan. SUR
No, it's not a mistake: MRI scan appointments up to 2am to reduce waiting lists in Malaga
Healthcare

No, it's not a mistake: MRI scan appointments up to 2am to reduce waiting lists in Malaga

The three machines at the Regional Hospital operate from eight in the morning until that time, a measure that is justified by a "worrying" situation

Matías Stuber

Wednesday, 15 May 2024, 20:09

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An MRI scan is one of the most illuminating tests in the search for a clinical diagnosis. A cylinder that looks like a spaceship, it is capable of detecting diseases in a body that may appear healthy on the outside. Patients suffer some discomfort, and it also requires patience and tests the most claustrophobic. Once inside, the procedure can take over an hour, depending on the complexity of the test. Anyone who has had an MRI scan knows that it can be very noisy inside the cylinder. It is a bit like being subjected to an orchestra of strange beeps and tones.

For Malaga residents who have an MRI scan pending and are registered at the regional hospital (formerly Carlos Haya), it is likely that they will experience this strange sensation at unusual times. Specifically, until two o'clock in the morning, causing surprise in many patients who suspect that behind the appointment there is an administrative error. An MRI at one in the morning? This is part of the latest attempt by the regional hospital to reduce waiting lists that are causing concern.

For the time being, this measure has only been implemented at the regional hospital, where there are three MRI machines. At the moment, they are in operation from Monday to Sunday and from eight in the morning until two in the morning. This measure was confirmed to SUR by the manager of the hospital, José Antonio Ortega, who justifies it by the need to "give maximum performance" to the machinery and staff. MRI scans are carried out within the radiology service and require a technician with specific training.

"We have waiting lists that concern us and we want to do everything possible on our part to reduce these. This measure is taken as long as the patient agrees, and it is not a contrast MRI. Appointments are given in cases where there is no risk to the patient. We are trying to get all the machinery in operation, that is the philosophy," Ortega explained.

To meet operational needs, the regional hospital has introduced three shifts for the technicians who operate the MRI machines. The centre has three such machines at its disposal. The hospital has made it clear that emergency tests can be carried out at any time. In this way, the aim is to improve "efficiency".

In addition, this unusual schedule for MRI scans would have another positive effect: referrals to private hospitals and clinics would be reduced. In this way, although the technicians are paid a night bonus, the final cost would still be lower.

The deputy medical director of the regional hospital, Silvia Rodríguez, understands that for some patients it can be an "inconvenient time". However, she also points out that if there is a justified reason for not being able to attend in the early hours of the morning, they try to make an appointment at another time. "The purpose is to make use of the resources we have. In the end, it is to improve response times," Rodríguez said. However, she insists that an absence must be justified. Otherwise, the MRI appointment is missed and the patient is stranded in the limbo of bureaucracy. It can be a long time before he or she is called back. She claims that the practice of early morning appointments is not unheard of and should have been done before.

Delays

In order to understand this measure, the next question should be aimed at the figures of waiting lists for MRI scans at the regional hospital. In spite of repeated requests for this information, it is referred to as confidential: the exact figures have to be requested from the regional ministry of health. The thing that always surrounds the waiting lists is uncertainty and a certain lack of transparency. One of the most recent reports on waiting lists for surgical operations serves as a possible yardstick.

As of November 2023, patients at the regional hospital had to wait, on average, more than twice as long as those at the Hospital Clínico. The former Carlos Haya accumulates a longer delay, with an average wait of 200 days, leaving 2,325 patients in limbo. This means that they are waiting longer than the time established by the Junta de Andalucía. Recent history shows that there is a problem with waiting lists, but the regional hospital is confident that, with measures such as this, a situation close to the ideal can be achieved.

With this system of appointments in the early hours of the morning, Rodríguez told SUR that an average of 25 to 30 MRIs a day can be carried out. "It will always depend on the complexity of the test requested," she said. The unions consulted are not opposed to this measure. The CCOO considers that it is better than "continuing to refer and feed the private health system".

Several doctors consulted told SUR that, at the moment, it is a "lesser evil" compared to the problems caused by the waiting lists.

Hospital Clínico

The measure of appointing patients in the early hours of the morning for MRI scans that has been implemented at the regional hospital has not been adopted, for the time being, in other hospitals in the province. Official sources at the Hospital Clínico confirmed to SUR that appointments for this diagnosis are concentrated in the usual timetable, which is morning and afternoon.

Like the regional hospital, the Hospital Clínico has three MRI machines. The Valle del Guadalhorce hospital, which is attached to the Hospital Clínico, operates in the same time frame. In the case of the Valle del Guadalhorce, there is just one MRI machine.

The same sources point out, however, that there are longer than ideal waiting lists for these diagnoses. In the meantime, if someone receives an appointment at an unusual time from the regional hospital, it is not a mistake. It is a way of reducing the waiting times.

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