A community's determination to end long delays for MRI scans has yielded extraordinary results.
ublic patients waiting for routine MRI scans at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar face a one-year delay, while children face a two-year waiting list for routine scans.
But it is hoped those lengthy delays will not continue for much longer.
In just 14 months, the people of Westmeath and Longford and surrounding areas banded together to raise more than €800,000 in their quest to buy an MRI scanner.
"People have been amazing. It's incredible what they've achieved in such a short time," said John McGrath (66), of the Friends of Regional Hospital Mullingar.
The campaign got a kick-start when the health authorities promised it would build a unit and provide specialist staff if the community raised the €950,000 needed to buy a scanner.
Both small and big fundraising ventures have received enthusiastic support, Mr McGrath said.
Last April, more than 600 people attended a fundraising dinner held at the Mullingar Park Hotel in memory of a local man John Murphy on what would have been his 40th birthday. That single event raised €205,000 for the scanner fund.
Mr McGrath said a cake sale in Ballinalee, Co Longford, raised €13,500 in two hours. There have been sponsored teddy bear events, tractor meets, and lots of madcap events.
Children have been very imaginative, including having a crazy hair day in school. One family raised thousands of euro climbing Croagh Patrick in memory of loved ones. A sponsored bike ride was also successful.
Many people in the region believe an MRI scanner should be available in every hospital and should not be viewed as optional.
They believe it is not acceptable that the hospital in Mullingar, which has a busy maternity unit and paediatric unit, still does not have one.
Almost 1,200 public patients are referred for an MRI from Mullingar Regional Hospital each year.
Adults are sent to the hospital in Tullamore for MRI scans and children are often sent to paediatric hospitals in Dublin for the scans.
Mr McGrath said that some patients in Mullingar can be too ill to be brought to Tullamore or elsewhere for an MRI scan.
An onsite MRI service is vital in the early diagnosis or investigation involving many conditions, including stroke, gastroenterology, cardiology and surgery and casualty treatment.
MRI scans are essential for all kinds of neurological conditions and, for example, gall bladder surgery.
As the hospital has a maternity unit, it is viewed as essential that all babies born prematurely should have an MRI scan to access signs of brain injury.
Mr McGrath said that building work on the new unit should begin within 18 months to two years.
A spokeswoman for the hospital told the Sunday Independent: "The Friends of Regional Hospital Mullingar have raised approximately €850,000 for the MRI machine and associated equipment to date.
"A capital build for the MRI and associated developments is required.
"The design team are currently finalising stage one of the capital build design and are hoping to submit for planning permission by May of this year.
"Following receipt of planning permission, the National Capital Steering Group will consider the capital building funding for this project."
Local Labour councillor Michael Dollard, a member of the regional health forum, said the hospital had a huge need for the scanner as it was so important in the early detection of so many medical conditions. "It's long overdue," he added.