South Surrey family frustrated by MRI backlog

Paige Jamieson and her father, Jen Chitty, say the wait list for an MRI is far too long.  - Tracy Holmes
Paige Jamieson and her father, Jen Chitty, say the wait list for an MRI is far too long.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

A South Surrey family is frustrated by health-care wait lists that are forcing their active teenaged daughter to wait at least seven months to get a knee injury properly diagnosed.

Paige Jamieson, 16, was hurt March 30 during a playoff soccer game at Queen’s Park in New Westminster.

As Jamieson went for a kick, a player on the opposing team “just kinda ran through my leg,” the teen said, explaining the impact to her left knee.

“I was limping for about 2½ weeks. I couldn’t walk at all for the first week.”

Jamieson’s dad, Jen Chitty, said a diagnostic MRI was ordered for Paige after an X-ray of her knee showed an “anomaly” that likely requires surgery, but did not enable doctors to pinpoint the damage.

“They know there’s something wrong,” Chitty said.

Since Paige’s injury was not deemed an emergency, she was given the first MRI appointment available at Peace Arch Hospital – Nov. 18, seven months away. Chitty said that when he complained it was an unacceptable wait for an active teenager, he was told to check other hospitals. The news was even more frustrating: the earliest appointment at Surrey Memorial Hospital was next April.

Put on a cancellation list, the family is not optimistic things will change anytime soon. They were told there are 250 people ahead of Paige on that list.

“They told us they’d had… ‘another budget cut’,” Chitty said.

However, an official with Vancouver Coastal Health – which manages medical imaging for the Lower Mainland – said that is not the case. While she would not comment on Paige’s case specifically, public affairs officer Viola Kaminski said annual funding for MRIs has increased by more than 19,000 exams, since services were consolidated in 2009-’10.

At the same time, Kaminski said, “seven months is not an unusual wait time.”

Urgency for the procedures is determined by each patient’s doctor, and the wait time depends on assessed priority level. Urgent and emergency MRIs can be done within 24 hours, she said.

Since 2001, the number of exams has tripled from 26,996 annual MRIs to 86,472 in 2011-’12.

The MRI Central Scheduling Initiative was developed to increase access for non-urgent patients; Kaminski said strategies are being implemented to improve access for patients deemed a low priority.

In the meantime, patients who feel their condition warrants reassessment are advised to bring those concerns to their doctor.

Paige’s situation has a familiar ring to Chitty.

About six years ago, his older daughter, Gabby Jamieson, was injured playing hockey. She had to wait two months for her MRI, then was placed on a triage list to be booked for surgery.

While waiting for that call, Chitty took Gabby to see a White Rock orthopedic surgeon. He told them they could wait for the triage call, or pay privately ($1,000) and have the procedure done within two weeks, Chitty said.

They chose the latter – and two weeks later, Gabby “hobbled in and walked out” – but left Gabby’s name on the triage list, to see how long it would be before that call came.

Nine months passed before Chitty answered the phone to learn Gabby’s turn in the public health-care system had arrived.

“It was ridiculous,” he said. “It’s even worse now.”

Chitty said he is considering going the private route again, but said it “doesn’t seem right” that they should have to. It’s unfair to people who can’t afford to do the same, he said, noting a private MRI costs about $500.

“For some people with lower incomes, this can mean the difference between their child going to university on a sports scholarship or not going to university at all.”

Prior to her injury, Paige – who started playing soccer at age five – had planned to try out for the Metro soccer team. She’s had to put that goal aside, but knows without more timely treatment, she will also not be able to play soccer in the fall.

“I love soccer. I want to run around,” she said.


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