Health bodies accused of passing the buck as ageing equipment lingers in Irish hospitals

Health bodies accused of passing the buck as ageing equipment lingers in Irish hospitals
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The HSE does not know the end of life date for hundreds of its MRI, CT, and ultrasound scanners, it has emerged.

Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show that large amounts of imaging equipment in hospitals across the country cannot access spare parts as the model is out of production, some of which have an end-of-life date in 2013 and are still in use. 

Two MRI machines currently in use were installed in 2001.

Of the 58 CT scanners across the country, there are only 25 where the hospital knows the end-of-life date for the machine, despite still being in use. 

South Tipperary General Hospital has a CT scanner whose end-of-life date was in 2013.

Ten more of these scanners have an end-of-life date in 2017. Only six of the 58 scanners have funding allocated for a replacement.

There are over 650 ultrasound scanners in use across the HSE. Some 34 scanners are so out of date there is "no guarantee of spare parts" should the machine break down. 

Ten were installed in 2003, 27 were installed in 2004, 17 were installed in 2005, and 54 were installed in 2020.

Only one scanner in use by the HSE that was installed before 2007 is still in production.

All other ultrasound scanners installed by the HSE from 2003 until 2012 are no longer in production, but are still in use by the health service.

Of the 35 MRI machines in use, only eight have a set out-of-service date. Five of the eight are out of date at the end of 2020. Another 18 are out of production.

Experts say the age and quality of these machines is often the reason for backlogs in access to imaging software in hospitals, as the older the machine gets, the more often it will break down, become more expensive to fix, and can leave entire rooms used for scanning out of use for days.

High-level sources in the medical industry say a pattern of "passing the buck" between the Department of Public Expenditure, the Department of Health, and the HSE has resulted in machines "being run into the ground", and that despite each of the departments and agencies being well aware of the issue, little has been done.

A source told the Irish Examiner: "We'll be lucky if there are no fatalities linked to this deficit in equipment."

Professor Anthony Staines, from DCU School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, said the figures are the "tip of a devastating iceberg" and are part of a pattern of bad management in the HSE.

"Generally, imaging tech improves over time, older machines are not as good as modern machines with the images they produce or speed they're produced," he said.

"Newer MRIs, for instance, take images much faster than older ones, the technology has come on rapidly.

This is the tip of an enormous iceberg at the HSE.

A HSE spokesperson said: “Age does have an impact on frequency of breakdowns but other factors also contribute such as reliability and frequency of use. 

"Cost of repair will depend on the specific fault, the sophistication of the equipment and the maintenance contract particulars.

“The HSE is aware of the high-risk equipment that requires to be replaced and as a consequence has increased the National Equipment Replacement Programme (NERP) budget to €65m in 2020 to replace the identified unreliable and at-risk medical equipment.”

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