24 September 2023

Concerns raised over age of Canberra Hospital's diagnostic imaging machines

| Claire Fenwicke
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Hospital emergency department entrance

Diagnostic imaging machines at the Canberra Hospital have been the latest issue raised by the Shadow Health Minister. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The ACT Government has been issued a ”please explain” on the processes around replacing diagnostic imaging machines in the Territory, and why it took more than four years to install a previously promised MRI machine.

Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley moved the motion in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (21 September), calling on the Government to provide information on what processes Canberra Health Services (CHS) had begun to replace or install new imaging machines and by what date they would be operational in Canberra Hospital.

She said 14 diagnostic imaging machines at Canberra Hospital were past their end-of-life period (as defined by the manufacturer) and that two machines no longer qualified for full access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) as they had exceeded their maximum extended life age.

Ms Castley said this wasn’t good enough.

“Upgrading these machines allows patients and staff to obtain faster, more detailed images,” she said.

”This reduces the need for multiple scans, can reduce wait times for all patients at our public hospital and ensures our diagnostic imaging devices receive full access to the MBS.

“Instead, the [Health] Minister has failed to upgrade these machines, which has resulted in lengthy repair times, thousands of outpatients stuck on lengthy waitlists to receive crucial medical imaging and a loss of at least $100,000 in MBS revenue [for the Government as of 12 November, 2022].”

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Ms Castley also slammed the Government for delays to more public MRI equipment for Canberra Hospital, which had been promised in the 2019-20 ACT Budget.

The project was due to be completed in March 2021, with a four-year investment of $11.2 million; however, one MRI machine was only recently set in place after having its installation time reconfigured in several budgets.

Ms Castley said while it was right for the Government to announce funding in one instance and then update the public on the successful installation, the lag in time wasn’t acceptable.

“What we find is, it’s almost a reannouncement each time [of] ‘Look what we’re doing, we’re working hard for Canberrans by bringing these great machines in’ when actually the Minister had announced [them previously],” she said.

“It’s not OK to keep Canberrans waiting for five years and just reannounce, reannounce, reannounce.

“Canberrans just want their hospitals to be safe, waitlists to be short, and promised infrastructure to be delivered in full and on schedule.”

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Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith hit back at Ms Castley’s amendment, stating much of her information was incorrect or misinterpreted.

“Ms Castley is not correct to conflate the age of machines with quality of care provided … or the wait times,” she said.

“In July 2023, the medical imaging department in Canberra Hospital identified 14 medical imaging machines that have reached or exceeded their recommended end of life as defined by the manufacturer.

“But when the recommended end of life is reached, it does not mean the machine cannot be functional.”

While Ms Stephen-Smith agreed it had taken some time to have the promised MRI machine from 2019 installed, this was down to circumstances outside of the Government’s control.

“The pandemic response [from 2020] took priority over the procurement and installation of equipment that was [already] working and functional,” she said.

“Teams working on installation of new equipment across infrastructure, support services and medical imaging had to focus on establishing vaccine and testing facilities, and responding to a significantly changed clinical environment.”

The Health Minister amended Ms Castley’s motion in its entirety, to acknowledge the impact the pandemic had on our health system and where priorities needed to be shifted, and to recognise there are “variations to the definition of ‘effective life age’ under the Medicare Benefits Schedule for the purposes of Medicare-payable benefits”.

The new ”calls on” were for the Government to continue delivering what it had promised, and to update the Assembly in the first quarter of 2024.

These amendments were passed, which left Ms Castley unimpressed.

She said while COVID-19 was a “convenient” excuse, she had hoped to see the Government held to firmer commitments.

“[They’ve] reduced my motion to not much at all, no action,” Ms Castley said.

“We’re just asking for transparency here, and instead they’ve completely amended the motion to say they’re doing a wonderful job … [there’s] no commitment to deliver anything except another report.”

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