Anger over region's mothballed MRI licence

South Coast X-Ray ultrasonographer Michael Gray. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO
South Coast X-Ray ultrasonographer Michael Gray. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

The Illawarra's southern suburbs remain without a Medicare-rebated MRI unit, with the only licence owned by a facility that hasn't even been built yet.

Just over 12 months ago the then Labor federal government extended a licence to the Illawarra International Health Precinct in West Dapto which, in a best-case scenario, will not open its doors for another two years.

At the same time the operators of South Coast X-Ray in Dapto were denied a full licence to provide services to patients with no out-of-pocket expenses, despite having operated an MRI in the region for seven years.

South Coast X-Ray ultrasonographer Michael Gray said with the West Dapto hospital still "a pile of dirt" the licence should be reallocated to the Dapto imaging clinic, which has a 35-year history in the region.

"Here's a business that has provided jobs and services to the people of Dapto for more than three decades," he said.

"Seven years ago the clinic paid more than $1 million for the MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], which was installed at Figtree Private Hospital.

"In late 2012 more than $600,000 was spent on a facility at our [Baan Baan Street] premises and it was moved there, but we are still waiting for that full licence."

Mr Gray said the clinic had a partial licence, meaning that it was able to provide scans with no out-of-pocket expense to patients with specified item numbers. The rest of the patients had to pay $200 for it.

MRI uses magnetic fields to generate images of the body. It's used to investigate or diagnose conditions such as tumours, joint or spinal injuries or diseases, soft tissue injuries or diseases of internal organs such as the brain or heart.

"We want to provide this service to the people of Dapto for free - there's no service between Wollongong and Nowra where they can get that," Mr Gray said.

Throsby MP Stephen Jones said he had made representations to former federal health minister Tanya Plibersek about the reallocation of the licence and intended to follow it up with the new minister, Peter Dutton.

"I've always been concerned about the licence being allocated to a hospital that many have doubts about whether it will even be built," he said.

"I want a provider in this region - there's no point in providing an MRI licence to a ghost service."

A spokesman for Dr Brett Gooley, the developer of the $315 million West Dapto hospital, said three tenderers had been shortlisted for stage one.

Once the successful company was selected work on the site would start, with stage one expected to be operational within two years.

"The government decides on the granting of these licences - it has made the decision to grant a licence to Illawarra International Health Precinct mainly because it's a tertiary referral hospital," the spokesman said.


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