Belgian health services are to obtain 18 new MRI scanners, bringing the total number to 139, federal health minister Maggie De Block announced. The new scanners – an increase of 15% – will be spread across hospitals throughout the country, she said. The aim is to reduce waiting times for patients requiring scans for chronic complaints such as back pain – urgent cases generally take precedence. In addition, scanners tend to be more prevalent in larger facilities in urban areas. In some hospitals, scans are even carried out into the night to help cut waiting lists.
According to De Block, who is a qualified and practising GP, too often patients are sent for a CT scan where an MRI scan would be more suitable. This is not only an inefficient use of public resources, she said, but the use of X-rays in CT scans carries a certain risk for patients. MRI scans do not use X-rays. The purchase of the new scanners was agreed with the regional public health ministers, and fits in the framework agreement reached with ministers at the end of last year.
The inter-ministerial conference on public health will now discuss the partition of the new scanners among the regions, and from there will allocate them to specific hospitals. The hospitals will pay the purchase price for their scanner, which is financed by the region. Operating costs of about 315,000 euro a year will be paid by the federal government. The scanners are expected to be budget neutral by replacing the costs of CT scans and double scans – each scanner costs up to three million euros. The new scanners should be fully operational within two to three years, De Block said.
In the meantime, a pilot project will start this year to test software which looks at the patient’s medical history and the latest scientific research to help doctors decide if an MRI scan is useful at all. The government fears that with an increase in scanner capacity, the number of scan requests will grow accordingly.