Channel 4's Dispatches programme has found that scanners in many trusts are long past their use by date
"CT and MRI machines start to become technically obsolete at 10 years. Older kit breaks down frequently, is slower, and produces poorer quality images, so upgrading is critical.” Dr Julian Elford, a consultant radiologist and medical director at the Royal College of Radiologists
A third of NHS trusts in England are using out-of-date scanning equipment that could be putting patients at risk, according to an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme.
Freedom of information (FOI) requests revealed that 34.5% of trusts have at least one magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner that is at least 10 years old, and 27.1% of trusts have a computerised tomography (CT) scanner in the same category.
Advice from NHS England is that all imaging equipment older than 10 years should be replaced.
The Dispatches programme, shown last night at 8pm, found that an MRI scanner used by Great Ormond Street Hospital is 21 years old, while half of the MRI scanners used by London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust are 16 years old.
Other trusts using obsolete equipment include the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS trust, which was using a 16-year old CT scanner, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr Julian Elford, a consultant radiologist and medical director at the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), told the Guardian: “CT and MRI machines start to become technically obsolete at 10 years. Older kit breaks down frequently, is slower, and produces poorer quality images, so upgrading is critical.”
Elford said that, not only were hospitals using obsolete scanning equipment, many of them didn’t have enough scanners. He said the RCR supported NHS England’s call to double the number of scanners and also recommended “a government-funded programme for equipment replacement on an appropriate cycle so that radiologists can diagnose and treat their patients safely.”
The investigation also found that many trusts were using obsolete X-ray technology dating right back to the 1970s. One X-ray scanner at St George’s University Hospitals was 44 years old.
The Dispatches team also looked through five years’ worth of prevention of future deaths reports from coroners. They found 48 reports between 2016 and 2021 that mentioned a lack of scans or radiology staff in connection with the death of a patient.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have backed the NHS with £525m to replace diagnostics equipment over the last two years and have recently set up 40 new one-stop-shop diagnosis centres in the community to deliver 2.8 million more scans for patients across the country.”