No CT scans provided at facility since last October
There have been no CT scans taken at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Ennis, Co Clare, since last October, despite the fact that there are qualified personnel on site.
Patients are instead being transferred to an already over-burdened Limerick Regional Hospital to get urgent scans. Others have been told to join the waiting lists.
This comes in the wake of reports of delays of seven months for CT scans and of five months for MRI scans at Tallaght Hospital in Dublin.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) reported last week that CT scanning had begun at Ennis Hospital and there had been 155 scans taken since July of last year -- which works out at just one per day.
However, it has emerged that the CT scanner, which cost more than €1m, has been idle in the hospital since last October, even though there is a qualified radiologist and radiographer at the hospital.
The HSE said: "The temporary suspension of the Ennis service was due to the departure of a temporary radiologist and made in the best interests of patient safety. It will only last until suitable qualified staff are available to run the service. Recruiting radiologists is always difficult because of a world-wide shortage in the speciality and it is practically impossible to attract qualified radiologists to stand-alone posts in outlying hospitals such as Ennis."
A qualified radiologist, with "the required clinical skills", is on the staff at Ennis Hospital, but he is not being allowed to analyse CT scans because the HSE argues that only having one radiologist on site is not "in the best interests of patient safety".
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said: "This is another story of how the HSE is failing on promises of more uniformity and efficiency in health reform. They've been promising us this and that for five years now."
When a patient receives a referral for a scan from their consultant, he or she can then go to any location which will accommodate them.
But it is usual for consultants to set up appointments at venues in proximity to the patient, which explains why there is such a back-up at the hospitals in Dublin.
"Why wouldn't patients decide to travel to the smaller hospitals to get these procedures done in one day instead of waiting seven months in Dublin?" Dr Reilly added.