Currently, patients in the Western Isles have to travel to the mainland for MRI scans and up to 1000 such scans per year are carried out in mainland hospitals, mostly in Glasgow.
A report before the board this week stated that the annual bill for the scans is nearly £650k, with the majority of the costs being for patient travel and accommodation.
That cost, the report stated, could instead be used to cover the annual running costs of a local service, with the upfront capital costs for the new scanner being just under £2 million, which would require funding from the Scottish Government.
The Business Case for the proposed scanner and MRI service in the report states that having an MRI scanner on the islands would “significantly improve patient pathways and the patient’s healthcare journey”.
Among the benefits listed for the plan are a reduction of travel for patients and their carers, a reduction in the ‘risks’ of patient travelling off-island “given the fragile travel services”, a shortening of the time for patients, especially with cancer, in receiving “life saving/life changing treatment”.
In addition, the meeting heard that the installation of the scanner locally would increase the ability of NHS Western Isles to recruit and retain medical specialist staff with a growing application of MRI scanning as a mainstream part of many medical specialisms.
The meeting heard from staff that some initial conversations “at a very high level” had taken place with the Scottish Government’s health department and there had been a positive responsive to the proposals.
Gillian McCannon, Interim Chair of the Board, said that the plan “was really robust”, and added:
NHS Western Isles Interim Chair, Gill McCannon, said: “This has been on our wish list for a long time and I really welcome this. Having an MRI scanning service in the Western Isles Hospital would greatly improve the patient journey and experience, and we will shortly be welcoming a permanent radiologist, who would support this service.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity and this is a very exciting development.”
NHS Western Isles Medical Director, Dr Frank McAuley, said: “Assessment MRI is a highly specialised technique, it is now a standard Radiological tool and is the investigation of choice for many conditions that could be managed locally should an MRI service be based in the Western Isles.
“Many patients are elderly or immobile and travelling on and off the island for care and treatment can be a stressful and difficult experience. Travel particularly in the winter months can often be exacerbated by poor weather conditions.
“I am delighted that the Board has recognised the benefit that this service would bring, and that members unanimously accepted this proposal.”
NHS Western Isles will now take steps to submit an application for funding to the Scottish Government.