Clinic's outrage over MRI licence refusal

Operators of a Dapto imaging clinic are furious at missing out on a licence to provide Medicare-rebated MRI scans, after the federal government extended a licence to a rival facility that is little more than a pile of dirt.

The two camps applied for licences from different pools of federal funding, with different outcomes.

The circumstances mean the Illawarra’s southern suburbs remain without a Medicare-rebated MRI unit because its clinics have either the equipment or the licence – but not both at once.

MRI - magnetic resonance imaging – uses magnetic fields to generate images for diagnosing illness and injury.

 The technology is applied to muscles and bones and is especially effective on soft tissue, making it important for use on patients with cancers or strokes. 

Earlier this year, operators of South Coast X-Ray moved an MRI unit from Figtree Private Hospital to their clinic on Baan Baan St at Dapto, and applied for a licence under the government’s Area of Need classification.

The licence allows clinics to provide the scans to patients with no out-of-pocket expense, but South Coast X-Ray missed out to hospitals and clinics in Taree, Bega, Campbelltown, Armidale and interstate.

The announcement came five months after Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek named the Illawarra International Health Precinct (IIHP) development, in Penrose, among 30 MRI units granted Medicare eligibility under the Regional Locations Expansion program. Michael Grey, an ultrasonographer at South Coast X-Ray, said the company had invested $8000 in its application and was at a loss as to why it had failed when a yet-to-be-built facility had succeeded.

‘‘This is tantamount to a social fraud. The end result for the people of Dapto is they have to go to Wollongong or to the International hospital that doesn’t exist.’’

The $315million IIHP will include a private hospital and is the project of La Vie Developments. 

It was granted approval for a concept plan and the first of the development’s eight stages – a $38million surgical centre – in February 2010, but by July 2011 was on the brink of collapse when developer Brett Gooley was alleged to have breached a string of approval conditions.

He was later ordered to move a dirt stockpile from the site and install a drainage system to protect nearby homes.

The initial project outline showed that the first three stages, including radiology and pathology facilities and a medical centre, would be completed this year, but work has not progressed beyond earthworks.

Dr Brett Gooley did not return the Mercury’s calls yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing said the application by IIHP met the criteria for a planned or non-operational unit, because it included ‘‘evidence of... a financial investment into the provision of an MRI service on or before May 10, 2011’’. This could include evidence of capital works to house a new unit, or evidence of a committed planning process, such as a development application to council. ‘‘The applicant was able to provide substantial evidence in support of their application,’. 

‘‘There is no requirement to provide services within a certain period’’.

She said the department would review take-up of the licences in 2013, but there was ‘‘nothing to prevent Dapto from having more than one Medicare-eligible MRI unit under any future expansion programs’’. 

She said South Coast X-Ray had been provided with a debrief on why their application did not succeed. 

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