City overlooked for MRI licence

A HIGH profile Mount Gambier surgeon has expressed disbelief the city has been overlooked for an “urgent” Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine in the latest roll-out of Federal Government funded licences.
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The outcry follows private medical imaging provider Benson Radiology lodging an application for a MRI Medicare licence for Mount Gambier under an “areas of need” funding round.

A private imaging provider at Whyalla’s public hospital – which has a lower population than Mount Gambier – was one of 12 providers across Australia to receive new MRI licences under the areas of need criteria.

Despite the setback, Benson Radiology has reconfirmed its commitment to secure a machine for Mount Gambier and vowed to submit other applications for a full or partial licence.

The private provider has also not ruled out funding a MRI in Mount Gambier at its own cost because it believes there is an “urgent” need.

Shocked by the snub, Mount Gambier orthopaedic surgeon Barney McCusker said he was stunned by the decision.

“I am absolutely horrified,” Mr McCusker said.

He said Mount Gambier was the largest centre outside Adelaide in SA and had a regional drainage population of more than 90,000 people.

Mr McCusker said the closest MRI providers were at Warrnambool and Adelaide.

“We now won’t see a MRI until at least 2015,” Mr McCusker said.

He said he was perplexed that the electorates of Federal Independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – who helped secure the Gillard Government stability – were given new MRI licences, while other regional areas such as Mount Gambier were snubbed.

Mr McCusker said the political swinging electorate of Bega – that had a population of 5000 and a drainage area of around 30,000 – was also issued with a licence.

Meanwhile, Benson Radiology chief executive Graham McGeagh said the company had applied for a licence under the areas of need criteria.

Unfortunately, he said it appeared there would be no more licences issued under this criteria until 2015.

While explaining he was not surprised by the result because of the large number of applicants, Mr McGeagh said the company would continue to strive to gain a machine for the regional community.

“We certainly believe Mount Gambier is an area of need – the closest provider in South Australia is in Adelaide. We believe there is an urgent need,” Mr McGeagh said.

He said an MRI would service a 100,000-radius population around Mount Gambier.

In fact, the chief executive said Benson would start a feasibility to consider providing a magnet in Mount Gambier at its own cost with the hope it would gain a full or partial Medicare licence in the future.

Mr McGeagh said the company would like to set up a MRI service at Mount Gambier Hospital because in-patients would not need to travel to its Crouch Street site.

But Victorian Member for Wannon Dan Tehan welcomed news patients using the Warrnambool MRI services would have access to Medicare from November 1.

“This is wonderful news, the issuing of the Medicare licence for the MRI machine is extremely welcome and an example of what our community can achieve,” Mr Tehan said.

“The Medicare licence for the MRI machine that was installed at South West Healthcare in August 2010 is very welcome.”

He said people previously had to pay up to $400.

The servive was provided initially without having access to a Medicare funded licence.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Benson Radiology Mount Gambier branch manager Nathan Prime considers the news the city has missed out on a MRI licence. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO