Delays for ultrasound 'excessive'

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014

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The length of time a person in Taranaki has to wait to get an ultrasound in Taranaki is "too long", a Taranaki District Health Board member said.

Dr Flora Gilkison, who is also Fulford Radiology chairwoman, said she was sorry for the long wait and understood people's frustration.

"Wait times for ultrasound is an ongoing issue and one we are constantly monitoring. We know the ultrasound wait list is too long and this relates to the challenge of recruiting more sonographers. We are trying to recruit internationally but this is extremely challenging as the shortage of sonographers is recognised as a nationwide issue."

New Plymouth woman Lorraine Hutchings needs an ultrasound to investigate a health problem. Her GP told her she would have to wait seven to nine months, if she got one at all, she said.

"If they don't think it's serious enough they will send you a decline letter." That was a few weeks ago, but she hasn't heard back yet.

"I don't understand why it has to take that long."

She has medical insurance, she said.

"If I pay for it, I presume I move up the list which doesn't seem fair for people who can't afford it. If I take that option does that bump somebody else further back?"

Last year waiting times for MRI scans in Taranaki were among the worst in the country.

Gilkison said Fulford Radiology had improved its waiting time for MRI and CT with the aim of meeting the 95 per cent target within six weeks by 2015/16.

"We believe we will be able to achieve this given the hard work by all involved. Ultrasounds are not considered part of this target; however, we acknowledge a nationwide issue with waiting lists for this diagnostic, related, in the main, to a shortage of sonographers."

While ultrasound is commonly used in checking the progress of foetuses, the technique is applied widely in the imaging of internal organs and muscles for diagnosis.

Fulford Radiology completed 13,213 ultrasounds within the 2013/14 financial year: 8.2 per cent of these were community referred.

The number is expected to be higher this year and Fulford was working with Taranaki DHB to ensure patients received their ultrasound within clinically appropriate time frames, she said.

The increasing demand for more obstetric scanning has also had an effect on the community referred patients on the waiting list. However, radiologists review the requests for ultrasound, ensuring anyone requiring an urgent test receives this in a timely manner. People in Taranaki have had better access to ultrasound than other DHBs, Gilkison said.

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"The ultrasound wait times are for community referrals and outpatients only and do not include any urgent or inpatient referrals."

Taranaki DHB and Fulford Radiology, which operate as a joint venture, are responsible for all publicly-funded radiology services in Taranaki.

- Taranaki Daily News

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