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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2551

Ms Jann McFarlane asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 20 March 2002:

(1) Is the Minister aware of an article in the 14 March 2002 edition of The West Australian Newspaper entitled “Scan dilemma—sick children go abroad for treatment” which highlights that WA parents are taking their children to Third World countries for MRI scans because Perth's only children's hospital cannot provide the service.

(2) Is Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) the only children's hospital in Australia without an MRI machine.

(3) Is it a fact that for a child to get an MRI scan in Perth he or she needs to travel to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital for the procedure and in order to do this they have to travel with a team of paediatric experts, including an anaesthetist: if so, is this acceptable given that doctors who have to travel with the child patients are not available for procedures at PMH for periods that extend to a number of hours.

(4) Is the Minister able to say whether the WA Government has agreed to buy an MRI scanner for PMH on the proviso that the Federal Government grants a Medicare licence.

(5) Did the Minister reject the offer; if so, why.

(6) Did the Minister's letter to the WA Health Minister state that granting of Medicare eligibility was based on priority areas of need; if so, does the Minister consider that children who are patients at PMH do not fit this category.

(7) Is it acceptable for WA families to have to travel overseas or interstate to get MRI scans in a children's hospital.

(8) Has WA not received a Medicare licence to run an MRI scanner in a public hospital for at least nine years.

(9) Is it a fact that of the 10 MRI scanners in WA, just two are in public hospitals; if so, (a) who holds the other 8 MRI Medicare licences, (b) what are the addresses of each of the licence holders and (c) when were each of these licences granted.

(10) Are there any MRI licences in regional WA, if so, where.

(11) Has the Federal Government previously refused licences for PMH and Fremantle Hospital; if so, on how many occasions.

Mr Andrews (Minister for Ageing) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Yes, I am aware of the article. Given that there are five Medicare eligible Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) units within a five kilometre radius of the Princess Margaret Hospital for children, including two at public hospitals, I am treating this claim with a high degree of scepticism.

(2) No.

(3) No. Children do not need to travel to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, as there are a range of options, with five Medicare eligible units within a five kilometre radius of Princess Margaret Hospital, including two at public hospitals. However, I understand that Princess Margaret Hospital has been allocated several sessions each week for dedicated paediatric MRI services at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. This is standard practice for children's hospitals, which I understand often access MRI through units at nearby adult hospitals. While Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital should have the necessary expertise, it may be desirable for paediatric experts to accompany children from the Princess Margaret Hospital in some cases, to the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital which is about three kilometres away.

(4) The Western Australian Health Minister is on the public record as committing to purchase an MRI unit for Princess Margaret Hospital, conditional on the unit being guaranteed Medicare eligibility.

(5) I have not accepted or rejected this offer. Additional Medicare eligible units are selected through a tender process that ensures units are located in areas of need, determined based on advice from an independent advisory committee called the MRI Monitoring and Evaluation Group (MEG). The Group considered the issues around the Princess Margaret Hospital on 20 March 2002. They advised that Medicare access to MRI for children in Western Australia is almost ten per cent higher than the national average and were unable to find any evidence of poor access to outpatient MRI services. However, they did suggest that I could consider assisting the Western Australian Government to meet its responsibilities to provide public in-patient MRI services. To encourage them to meet their responsibilities, I have offered $500,000 towards a unit for the Princess Margaret Hospital.

(6) Yes, the granting of eligibility to further units is based on priority areas of need, determined based on independent expert advice from the MEG. Perth has not been identified as an area of need, reflecting the fact that it is relatively well serviced, with the second highest ratio of scans to population of all the capital cities. Similarly, Medicare data suggests that the needs of Western Australian children for outpatient MRI services are also being met. The Commonwealth does not, however, have access to reliable data on public hospital in-patient MRI services as these are funded by the States. It may be that there is a problem with access to in-patient MRI services in Western Australia, but this is outside the Commonwealth's control as provision of public in-patient services are a State responsibility.

(7) Again, there is no need for Western Australian families to travel overseas or interstate so that children can receive scans on an outpatient basis. There are six units in Perth and clear evidence that Medicare access to MRI for Western Australian children is relatively high. It is difficult for me to comment on public in-patient hospital services, as these are a State responsibility, but given that such services are provided in Perth as they are in other capital cities, I would be very surprised if families are travelling overseas for these services.

(8) No, over that period, two public hospitals in Western Australia have become eligible to provide MRI services under Medicare. The Commonwealth only commenced funding MRI through Medicare in September 1998, when Medicare eligibility was granted to a mix of public and private machines already operational or in the process of being installed, including two public hospitals in Western Australia, Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

(9) There are six Medicare eligible MRI units in Western Australia, not ten. The Commonwealth is also aware of a number of ineligible units, but as these do not receive funding, we do not have access to verifiable data on the number and location of these units.

(a-b) Names and addresses of eligible providers of MRI in Western Australia are as follows:

- Royal Perth Hospital, North Block, Wellington Street, Perth

- Magnetic Resonance Centre, 127 Hamersley Road and Cnr Rokeby Road, Subiaco, Perth

- St John of God Hospital, 175 Cambridge Street, Subiaco, Perth

- Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Verdun Street, Nedlands, Perth

- St John of God Hospital, 100 Murdoch Drive, Radiology Department, Murdoch, Perth

- Perth Imaging, Mt Medical Centre, Mount Bay Road, Perth

(c) All six providers became eligible for Medicare benefits from 1 September 1998. Following a change to regulations, Perth Imaging was deemed to be ineligible from 1 November 1999, but its eligibility was reinstated on 27 March 2001 and backdated to cover the period it had been deemed ineligible.

(10) No. The highly expensive nature of this technology and the need for units to be located near key infrastructure, specialist referral bases and areas with a critical population mass means that the overwhelming majority of units are located in metropolitan areas. The MEG is continuing to monitor patient access, with a view to improving overall access and the geographical distribution of services, and will make recommendations to the Federal Government regarding the need for further Medicare eligible MRI services later this year.

(11) No. To my knowledge, neither hospital has formally applied for Medicare eligibility as neither hospital has installed a unit nor been located in an identified area of need.