One MRI machine is shared by 34 Delhi government hospitals, which between them have close to 11,000 beds and a daily patient footfall of more than 50,000.
Patients have to wait till July 2018 for an MRI scan — short for magnetic resonance imaging — an essential part of medical diagnostics and used to detect tumours, cysts, injuries and abnormalities in all parts of the body, including in the brain, heart, spine, liver and lungs.
An MRI test costs upwards on Rs 5,000 in private clinics, but is done free in government-run hospitals.
Sources said the wait for MRI scans increased by a year after the AAP government announced free diagnostic tests from February 1, allegedly without adding to infrastructure and manpower. Before the announcement, patients were charged subsidised rates ranging between Rs 1,200 and Rs 3,000 for each MRI scan.
Delhi health secretary Tarun Seem said that tenders have been floated for five more MRI and 10 CT scan machines. “We should get them soon, in another month or two,” Seem said.
Health department sources said that even in-patients who need scans for emergency surgery have to wait for a week to 10 days at the Lok Nayak hospital, where the lone machine is located.
“A 35-year-old woman admitted with a tumour suddenly lost movement in her lower body and needed surgery within eight hours. She was given an MRI date a fortnight later,” said a doctor from Lok Nayak, on condition of anonymity. “She was referred to Safdarjung hospital, but the family decided to get it from a private centre.”
The GB Pant hospital, across the road from Lok Nayak, has a MRI machine that hasn’t been fixed since it broke down more than six months ago, the sources added.
It is Delhi government’s only super-specialty hospital equipped to do complex neuro, cardio and gastro-intestinal surgeries, all of which need MRI scans.
“We need an MRI for almost all cases but are forced to refer them to Lok Nayak,” said a GB Pant hospital surgeon, who also did not want to be named.
To meet the overload, Lok Nayak now runs its machine from 9 am to 8pm, instead of the designated hours of 9am to 4pm.
At current market prices, a 1.5 Tesla MRI machine costs between Rs 4 crore and Rs 6.5 crore, while a high-end 3 Tesla MRI machine can cost up to Rs 14 crore. The Delhi government paid close Rs 15.35 crore for the MRI machine installed at Lok Nayak last year.
All of Delhi’s five multi-speciality hospitals – GB Pant, Lok Nayak, Guru Teg Bahadur, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Baba Saheb Ambedkar – either refer patients to Lok Nayak, Safdarjung or to private labs that do tests at subsidised rates.
University College Medical Sciences, attached to Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, even runs a three-year long course in MD Radiology without an MRI, sending radiology aspirants to Safdarjung for a month to learn how to use an MRI machine.
The AAP government led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal takes pride in its efforts to boost healthcare in the capital and provide basic facilities at the people’s doorsteps through community clinics.