Illawarra MRI licences in spotlight

Throsby MP Stephen Jones is urging the federal government to take another look at its allocation of MRI licences to give southern Illawarra residents better access to the potentially life-saving scans.

Currently, there are only three clinics in the Illawarra that have a full licence to provide Medicare-rebated MRI scans - and none between Wollongong and Nowra.

Three years ago, the operators of a Dapto imaging clinic expressed frustration after it was denied a full licence, while the government granted one to a rival facility that was yet to be built.

A few years on, not much has changed. The new operators of South Coast X-Ray have failed to get a full licence - they have a partial licence - while the fully licensed Illawarra International Health Precinct development at West Dapto is still little more than a pile of dirt.

"I have grave doubts this development will ever get off the ground," Mr Jones said. "I'd like to see the licence reallocated to another provider within the region that's ready, willing and able to go.

"Overall there needs to be a more rational allocation of resources. If I look at my electorate, for instance, I've got two MRI licences that have been granted up in Bowral within 500 metres of each other; then there's nothing for any of the areas covering the southern part of the electorate. It just doesn't make sense."

Radiologist Dr Eric Brecher took the reins of South Coast X-Ray 18 months ago.

With the partial licence, some MRI items such as brain, spine and knee scans have Medicare eligibility. However, he would like to have a full licence so that all specialist MRI scans can be bulk billed.

"MRI studies provide superior diagnostic imaging for contrast of soft tissues - it's considered the gold standard imaging modality for diagnosing many disease entities," Dr Brecher said.

"With our partial licence there are several items that are not covered by Medicare; a full licence would allow us to bulk bill many additional exams."

A federal Department of Health spokeswoman said Medicare eligibility was granted under formal application processes, which were not open at the moment.

"The Illawarra International Health Precinct in West Dapto participated in a formal process seeking nominations for MRI eligibility, and was successful in this process," the spokeswoman said.

"Once the site is operational Medicare eligibility will be made available. Given the [precinct] was granted eligibility through a formal process and against criteria established in that process there is no consideration being given to transferring eligibility to another facility in Dapto."

The Mercury was not able to contact Dr Brett Gooley, the developer of the $315 million West Dapto facility this week.

Dr Gooley's company La Vie Developments received project approval from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment for the concept plan and the first of the facility's eight stages on January 31, 2010.

However, a company spokesperson previously told the Mercury that a complicated planning and approval process had slowed progress.

A Wollongong City Council spokesperson said this week that correspondence between the developer's consultants and council to address a range of conditions had started in May this year.

"There were a number of conditions with the major development approval and the developer was required to submit to [council] a number of documents for assessment before an application for a construction certificate for stage one of the project could be issued," the spokesperson said.

"Council completed the assessment of the documents last week. The documents, such as a stormwater management strategy and a dilapidation report, were considered satisfactory and have met the conditions of the major development approval."