Hundreds more sick Aucklanders are being given fast access to scans at privately owned clinics under a taxpayer-financed scheme.
GPs have welcomed the move. It will relieve pressure on ultrasound scanning at Middlemore Hospital, where delays for the diagnostic scans for conditions such as gallstones and liver problems had become too long.
The Counties Manukau District Health Board has set aside $500,000 to pay for scans of patients sent directly to private clinics by GPs.
The cash top-up builds on the scheme already funded by the Counties Manukau and Auckland DHBs that allows GPs to refer patients who meet clinical criteria to private clinics for x-rays or ultrasounds - or directly, without first seeing a specialist, to the DHBs' own radiology departments for MRI and CT scans.
"At the end of last year," said Benedict Hefford, director of primary and community services at Counties Manukau, "we had over 1000 people on the waiting list for ultrasound at Middlemore Hospital. People were waiting for up to six months for ultrasound diagnostics and we recognised that wasn't satisfactory."
The top-up is expected to allow about 500 extra patients a month to have a scan.
Otara GP Dr Harley Aish, a director of the primary care group ProCare, said being able to send patients to radiology clinics in their own community without having to wait weeks for a hospital appointment was a huge improvement.
"In Otara, where there are a lot of Maori and Pacific people and poor people with no health insurance, it has really made a big difference ..."
Dr Aish described how well the system worked for a 61-year-old Manurewa patient. A smoker, she came to see him on Monday for a bad cough.
"I thought it's probably a chest infection but she's a smoker, what if there is a cancer. She hadn't had a chest x-ray for three or four years."
He filled in her symptoms and details on the computer-based x-ray request form, her condition met the criteria for community referral, and he gave her the computer-generated x-ray voucher.
She had the x-ray the same day and Dr Aish received the result - nothing suspicious for cancer - that evening. He told her on Tuesday and prescribed antibiotics for infection.