'Free' MR scanners in U.K. come with hidden price tag

September 28, 2004

A lottery fund in the U.K. has enabled the purchase of about $72 million worth of MR equipment for hospitals throughout the country. Unfortunately, many scanners are lying idle, as the charitable contribution did not include operating expenses.

A lottery fund in the U.K. has enabled the purchase of about $72 million worth of MR equipment for hospitals throughout the country. Unfortunately, many scanners are lying idle, as the charitable contribution did not include operating expenses.

A survey conducted by the Royal College of Radiologists found that many scanners given to hospitals through the lottery came with insufficient funds to run them at maximum capacity, said Dr. Paul Dubbins, dean of the faculty of clinical radiology at the Royal College. The annual upkeep of an MR scanner can run from $150,000 to $350,000.

Although the lottery fund has added more than 50 MR scanners in the U.K., waiting times for exams have risen to 18 months in some hospitals.

While no further cash is being provided by the lottery's MRI program, the government's Department of Health is actively working to develop ways to use any spare MRI capacity.

"MRI is an important imaging technique, which should be widely available. Before acquiring the equipment, however, careful planning for how to run the MRI service should be in place," said Dr. Sameh Morcos, an honorary reader at the University of Sheffield and a consultant radiologist with Northern General Hospital.

The average cost of an MR exam at Northern General is $1100, and the hospital performs about 15 per day.

"MRI is the best technique and sometimes the only possible imaging technique to assess certain clinical problems under investigation," Morcos said.