A Senate Inquiry has slammed the Liberals’ record on Medicare MRI licences, finding that the Government’s inaction could have deadly consequences.
MRI scans are used to detect and diagnose conditions that affect soft tissue, such as tumours, but only attract a Medicare rebate if they are performed on an eligible MRI machine.
Under Malcolm Turnbull, access to Medicare MRI scans has become a lottery of location.
The Liberals have granted just four MRI licences in more than four years in office – including two in marginal electorates during the 2016 campaign. There has been no opportunity for other communities to apply for a licence.
As a result, the Committee found that people were struggling to access Medicare MRI scans around Australia, such as in:
- Queensland – northern Brisbane, Morayfield and Caboolture, Redcliffe and Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Wide Bay, Gladstone and Emerald, and regional Queensland in general;
- New South Wales – northern beaches of Sydney, western Sydney, northern New South Wales and Cessnock;
- Victoria – western Melbourne; and
- Western Australia – Kalgoorlie, Pilbara and areas north of Geraldton.
The Committee’s top recommendation is for the Government to “immediately implement an application process with clear, objective and transparent assessment criteria to permit hospitals and radiology practices to apply for licences for Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines”.
The Health Minister’s own Department told the Committee that the last Labor Government ran such MRI licence rounds regularly – including in 2012, when Labor granted 225 full and partial MRI licences around Australia. Labor’s investment meant that more communities could access early detection and diagnosis of disease.
But the Liberals’ failure to follow Labor’s lead could have deadly consequences, with the Committee saying it was “particularly concerned by reports that children are being subjected to the radiation of CT scans due to issues associated with the accessibility of MRI machines”.
This followed evidence from Children’s Healthcare Australasia that for every 1,000 CT scans a new case of cancer is created in an Australian child.
The Government cannot continue to ignore the tragic impacts of its inaction on Medicare MRI licences, and must now act urgently on the Inquiry’s recommendations.