The national referral hospital (JDWNRH) has referred about seven patients who urgently require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) service to Siliguri, India after the hospital stopped providing the service a month ago.

The only MRI machine in the country is in the process of upgradation and the hospital could not provide the service for the last one month.

MRI is a safe, painless test that uses radio waves and energy from strong magnets to create detailed images of a body.

The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Gosar Pemba said that the MRI machine at the hospital is very old.  The machine is more than 10-years-old while its lifespan is only 10 years.

With new model MRI machines in the market, he said, it is difficult to get spare parts for the old model. “Our machine frequently breaks down and we are not getting the spare parts.”

He said the hospital either needs to change to a new model or have the machine upgraded if it doesn’t have the fund to buy a new one. “This is what we are doing.”

The 1.5T GE Signa HD MRI at the hospital would be upgraded to Signa Explorer system. The upgrading process is expected to complete next month and the hospital would be able to continue providing the service by January next year.   

“The hospital pays the transportation cost and for the service of patients’ who are referred to Siliguri for the MRI service,” Dr Gosar Pemba said.

The cost for the MRI service in India depends on which part of the body the MRI scan is done. A whole body MRI scan costs about Nu 22,000, cervical MRI costs Nu 8,000 and the whole abdomen costs about Nu 12,000.

Biomedical engineer with the hospital, Regal Norbu, said MRI is a high-end machine and it would cost about Nu 60 to 70M (million) to buy a new one. “The hospital doesn’t have the budget so we are going for upgrading the machine which cost about Nu 30 to 40M.”

“If we use the machine after its life-span then there is a risk of having patient causalities and also the imaging would not be clear,” he said. “We need to either replace the machine with a new one or upgrade it.”

The hospital has a comprehensive maintenance contract with the company for which the hospital pays Nu 3,500,000 to the company, Wipro G, annually.  The company takes care of the maintenance of the machine.

“Since it is a high-end machine and it is complicated, we are not allowed to do anything when the machine breaks down,” Regal Norbu said. “The company sends its people the next day after we inform them of any problem with the machine.”

According to the procurement rules, he said that any spending above Nu 20,000 have to be tendered out but in this case, the hospital cannot do that because the machine is Wipro G’s and only the company has the authorisation to repair or provide spare parts.

“We were told that by December all the parts which come from about four countries would be here,” he said. “People from the company would come here and we would together assemble the parts, do the test and then only upon the company’s notification saying it is safe to use, the hospital would continue the service.”

Dechen Tshomo