Federal government rejects Sutherland Hospital's licence application for scanner

Sutherland Hospital will be the only major public hospital in Sydney without an MRI machine after an application for a licence was rejected by the federal government.

ll or injured patients requiring scans will continue to be taken to St George Hospital and a private hospital at Hurstville, a round trip of about 22 kilometres and sometimes in emergency situations.

The number of transfers to St George Hospital is limited, and patients often wait many hours for return transport, which is hard on the elderly.

An MRI machine, which gives a detailed view of the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, ligaments, brain tissue, discs and blood vessels, is used to diagnose and monitor medical conditions including trauma, cancer, stroke and heart problems.

A licence enables services to be funded by the federal government and patients to be bulk billed.

Fifty new licences, including one for St George Hospital, were awarded before the federal election, but an application for Sutherland Hospital was unsuccessful.

Prime Minister and Cook MP Scott Morrison's electorate office said "there is unlikely to be another application process anytime soon".

Ill patients are waiting in wards for several days for a scan which would determine their diagnosis.

Sandra Hudson

Sandra Hudson, a long-time community volunteer at Sutherland Hospital along with other community groups, was "stunned" when she learnt through personal experience of the situation and is trying to do something about it.

"During a few admissions to Sutherland Hospital, myself and other patients were taken by ambulance to St George hospital," she said.

"However, there was a limit of three patients per day, and that number could be reduced if St George or Calvary needed the spots.

"Private facilities with MRIs in the area would not take patients from Sutherland Hospital. Urgent patients were taken by taxi to a Hurstville practice, which is very unsatisfactory.

"Ill patients are waiting in wards for several days for a scan which would determine their diagnosis, and other patients wait for a hospital bed which is taken up by a person waiting for an MRI."

Ms Hudson joined with another concerned resident Marilyn Urch in contacting state and federal politicians and gathering a petition.

The petition states there are 10 major metropolitan hospitals in Sydney. and Sutherland is the only one that does not have, or is about to get, an MRI.

There has been a strong response, with many people adding comments, including:

  • My 95-year-old mum was taken by ambulance along with other patients to St George.
  • The cost time and inconvenience is ridiculous. The ambulance system is already overtaxed.
  • Surprised Sutherland has a Heart Lab attached to it but no MRI facilities
  • Having a local MRI would have allowed diagnosis of my condition earlier and prevented complications
  • My husband waited all day at St George without medical care and was sent back without scans of all the areas required by Sutherland Hospital.
  • West gets more consideration than the south.
  • Overdue. Disruption to patients is large and difficult to respond to emergency situations.

Cronulla MP Mark Speakman and Attorney-General Mark Speakman has unsuccessfully lobbied state Health Minister Brad Hazzard, seeking state funding for a machine, even without a federal licence.

Mr Speakman said he was hopeful new operating theatres and endoscopy suites to be built at Sutherland Hospital would provide a suite to house a future MRI machine.

Mr Hazzard said in a letter to Mr Speakman MRI licences and machines were in high demand across Australia.

"As part of the Australian Government's national invitation to apply process, MRI priority areas of need were provided by NSW [Health] and included support for St George Hospital and Sutherland Hospital," he said.

"While the Australian Government has announced support for a full Medicare eligible MRI licence at St George Hospital, there has been no formal notification regarding Sutherland Hospital's application.

"The cost of an MRI is significant. Mr David Pearce, acting chief executive, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, has advised there are no funds available within the district to support procurement and recurrent costs for MRI services at Sutherland Hospital."

Mr Hazzard said Mr Pearce had assured him all patients were provided with access to appropriate medical imaging, and well established consultation and referral arrangements would continue.

In a follow-up letter, Mr Hazzard said Mr Pearce has advised the health district would continue to explore options to fund an MRI.