MOUNT Gambier Hospital celebrated a major medical milestone with the arrival of the region's first Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner early Sunday.
The five-and-a-half tonne scanner was lifted into the front entrance by crane and then pushed along the corridor on dolly wheels and makeshift steel tracks to the redeveloped Benson Radiology clinic.
The operation ran like clockwork despite it resembling the most delicate of surgical procedures.
Just the second installed in regional South Australia, the arrival of the custom-made German machine will mean patients now have the choice of not travelling to Adelaide or Warrnambool for potentially lifesaving diagnoses.
The machine is being installed without a Medicare licence and is being fully funded by Benson.
This means patients will need to pay an out-of-pocket expense given there will be no rebate.
In most cases this fee would be $250, but it would depend on the complexity and nature of the scan.
During his visit to Mount Gambier in March, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared he would be “amazed” if the city did not have a licence within 12 months.
Benson Radiology chief executive officer Graham McGeagh said building works at the clinic had progressed well over the past few weeks, resulting in the scanner being carefully transported from Adelaide on Saturday.
“The scanner is now safely in its new home,” Mr McGeagh said.
He said the company was pleased with the transportation and installation process that occurred over the weekend and thanked their staff and contractors for their help and expertise in ensuring the smooth delivery of the scanner.
“Of course there is still a lot of work to be done over the coming weeks to ensure the scanner and the suite is ready for the first patient in the week beginning Monday, May 4,” he said.
He said the company and other proponents would continue to push for a Medicare licence.
“Along with Tony Pasin, we continue to lobby for a Medicare licence and while there is no decision yet, we understand that discussions are advancing,” Mr McGeagh said.
Meanwhile, Benson Radiology operations general manager Aaron Hatcher - who was on site on Sunday to oversee the delicate installation - described the arrival of the MRI unit as a major achievement.
“It has certainly been a long journey - we held many meetings held behind closed doors,” Mr Hatcher told The Border Watch.
He said the company chose to install the equipment at the hospital rather than at its Crouch Street site because it provided better value for the community.
Mr Hatcher said this was despite the Crouch Street premises being a logistically superior site to install the MRI machine.
“If we put it at Crouch Street, patients at the hospital would have to be transported there - this is better for all,” he said.
The Benson executive estimated the scanner would facilitate up to 10 patients per day.
“In metropolitan areas, this can be up to 30 during busy periods,” Mr Hatcher said.
He said the Benson clinic had to be remodelled to accommodate the scanner and associated infrastructure.
He said a host room had been built at the clinic to house the scanner to ensure no radio waves and magnetic fields leaked from the concealed room.
“If there is any break, then there is an alarm,” Mr Hatcher explained.
“The room will also have a sky ceiling, which will help with patient comfort.”
Importantly, he said the host room also had a sound absorbing wall to ensure the noises made by the machine were reduced for hospital patients.
“The wall will also absorb sound and stop it travelling through the hospital,” Mr Hatcher said.
“This will make a huge difference.”
While one Mount Gambier staff member was already MRI trained, he said other staff would receive training.
More than 3500 people signed a petition - organised by Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell - calling for an MRI licence.