Mobile MRI scanner at the Wilson cuts diagnostic wait times by weeks

A mobile MRI scanner in the carpark of the Wilson Hospital, Mitcham is reducing patient waiting times from six to four weeks.

The scanner was installed by St George’s University Hospitals NHS Trust as part of a programme to increase access to life-saving diagnostic tests, as the NHS recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

Funding for the project comes from £12million awarded nationally to the NHS in South West London to increase the capacity of existing diagnostic services at the trust’s Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton site, as well as boosting mobile testing in the community.

Locating this scanner at the Wilson means people in the east of the Merton borough can access vital tests more easily.

As well as St George’s, the scanner is available to be used by two other south west London NHS trusts, Epsom and St Helier and Croydon. Richard Billington, deputy general manager of imaging at St George’s said: “This site is really handy for those three trusts as it’s virtually equidistant between each of them. We know that patients who live in this area really do love that it’s on their doorstep.”

The equipment was installed on 4 October and began scanning patients immediately.

Richard continued: “We started doing about 17 or 18 scans a day, but we are increasing that to 21 per day now and eventually into the mid-20s – which will be absolutely fantastic.

“Once we got the site working, our general MRI waits at St George’s went from six weeks down to four. Having capacity available to the other trusts will mean they will have the same opportunity.

“It’s about maximising this new capacity for each of the sites depending on where the pinch points are. So, if any of the South West London trusts have issues like a scanner going down or they have backlog issues, we can flex the capacity to meet that challenge.”

As well as the scanner at the Wilson, MRI capacity at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton has been increased to offer a seven-day service. A new mobile CT scanner is currently operating from Kingston Hospital but will be relocated to Queen Mary’s in the new year. Existing diagnostics have also been expanded at The Nelson, St Johns Therapy Centre, Surbiton, Raynes Park, Molesey and Kingston Hospital.

Speeding up the diagnostic process means patients, found to have serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease, can begin treatment more quickly, leading to better outcomes.

Sue Baillie Chief Radiographer at St George’s said: “It’s a real benefit for patients to come to the Wilson and have their MRI scan. It allows them to have their scan earlier than expected and closer to home.”

Dr Vasa Gnanapragasam, local GP and Borough Lead for Merton said: “This new diagnostic service on people’s doorstep in Mitcham is great news for local people who will have faster access to tests, meaning they can start treatment sooner for serious conditions like cancer and heart problems or get the all-clear, providing peace of mind. Early diagnosis is crucial to saving lives, which is why these plans will have tangible benefits for our patients.”

Patient Antony Osborne said: “I cycled from Battersea to have an MRI scan. The first time I’ve had one done in my life. My appointment was for 11.30 but I was seen at 11 minutes past – which was good. The machine can be very claustrophobic – though not for me, I’m a caver, used to small spaces. I was treated with utmost respect, we had a laugh, I think it lasted for 25 minutes.”

Plans will also been submitted for funding to develop a brand-new diagnostic centre in Croydon and expand services at St Helier hospital.

Inside the mobile scanner provided by InHealth