Hundreds of thousands of patients have been waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 standard diagnostic tests – including MRI – and even more have seen treatments postponed since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic last spring.
But, despite this backdrop, Poole Hospital has managed to reduce its backlog and waiting times for MRI scans through the first half 2021, with the hospital averaging an extra 30 patients per month this year compared to 2020.
And this is due to the introduction of the Ingenia Ambition X MRI scanner which, together with Philips Compressed SENSE technology, can speed up exam times by up to 50%, meaning patients spend less time being scanned with no compromise on image quality.
MRI scans have long been a crucial part of the diagnosis and treatment journey for millions of patients who pass through hospitals every year.
And, as England’s population has aged and more people live with comorbidities, the number of MRI scans being conducted across the country has accelerated.
This growth has compounded pressure on radiologists, whose workloads increased by as much as 30% in recent years.
But, despite health services being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, MRI scans remain an essential part of the treatment journey for millions of patients, with 3.36 million scans performed in the UK every year – costing the NHS almost £450m.
The MRI was invented in the UK, so it is fitting that the UK has introduced another imaging first at Poole Hospital
An important element behind these rising costs is the price of helium, an increasingly-finite gas used as a cooling agent in MRI scanners.
Recent estimates predict that the earth could run out of its helium supply in as little as 25-30 years, creating an increasing need for more-sustainable approaches to the use of the gas in MRI technology.
And, as the burden of COVID-19 reduces, the need for innovative and effective diagnostic tools increases, to ensure the NHS can manage the resurgence in standard procedures and enabling patients to receive timely care – while also deploying solutions which can be managed much more sustainably.
Two years on: Poole Hospital
Against this backdrop, in 2019 Poole Hospital became the first UK hospital to introduce the Philips Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR - the UK’s first helium-free MR operations system.
With growing patient demand, and growing helium shortage, the trust was searching for solutions that enabled it to sustainably scale up services.
Based on a decade of innovation, the Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR operates with only seven litres of liquid helium, instead of the usual 1,500 litres in conventional MR system designs, with the fully-sealed BlueSeal magnet.
This is particularly important considering the rising costs of helium, which grew by nearly three quarters in 2021 to £15.49 a litre compared to £11.61 a year previous.
Furthermore, the Philips BlueSeal magnet uses a highly-efficient, new micro-cooling technology which is fully sealed, so no helium can escape, either suddenly during a loss of field or gradually.
As a result, this technology has a significant impact on the long-term continuity, security and cost of MR operations.
Dr Ayer said: “We are very proud to be the first NHS trust in the UK to offer our patients this breakthrough MR technology.
“The Ingenia Ambition X not only ensures high-quality diagnostic care, but also all but eradicates potentially-costly disruptions to service when helium doesn’t remain cool enough to work with.
For us as radiographers it is a game changer. It is a completely-different way of working
“MR technology is a high-level investment that needs frequent use to ensure return on investment, so removing this problem is of great appeal to the team.
“And, vitally, it will support us to see more patients more quickly, without compromising quality.
“This is a new approach to diagnostic imaging and exactly the kind of service we are proud to bring to our community.”
Introducing comfort and easing anxiety
Having an MRI scan can be daunting for many patients; some may feel anxiety about the process or struggle with claustrophobia.
And the patient experience has informed the design and build of the Ingenia Ambition X from the very start.
Eliminating these concerns for patients has been a Philips’ goal from the beginning.
For example, many patients who would have previously needed general anaesthetic are able to tolerate the scan without sedatives.
Furthermore, the screening can also be well tolerated by children as young as three years old and those with autism as Philips has created an ambient experience, including screens on the back wall of the system to play media and the introduction of soothing music through headphones.
Parent, Beverley Moore, who daughter, Abigail, was scanned using the system, said: “Although she was very nervous, being able to listen and watch a movie made the whole experience a pleasant one.
“It was noisy, but not as noisy as I expected. Technology never ceases to amaze me.”
Benefits for clinicians
For too long MRI machines have required multiple clinicians and healthcare workers to set up the system for each patient.
In designing the Ingenia Ambition X, Philips applied the latest technologies and insights from clinicians to develop a machine operable by just one MRI radiographer, with a second MRI radiographer present for safety reasons.
A people-centric approach which takes into consideration all elements of the ambient experience and environmental wellness of the patient creates a more-productive and efficient process by reducing patient stress levels and increasing more first-time-right imaging
The software used guides an MRI radiographer through an intuitive programme, in turn improving workflow and freeing up wider resources.
For MRI radiographer teams this is revolutionary.
Not only does each machine save money for the hospital and reduce finite gas use, but it frees up vitally-important clinical capacity.
Together with Philips Compressed SENSE technology, the Ingenia Ambition X can speed up exam times by up to 50%, meaning patients spend less time being scanned with no compromise on image quality.
Dr Ayer said: “A people-centric approach which takes into consideration all elements of the ambient experience and environmental wellness of the patient creates a more-productive and efficient process by reducing patient stress levels and increasing more first-time-right imaging.”
Studies have shown that Philips Compressed SENSE technology allows hospitals to scan more than five extra patients per day within the same scanning hours, enabling clinicians to reduce patient backlog.
Improving comfort and reducing anxiety through the use of ambient lighting and music have helped to improve the patient experience
Dr Ayer said: “Other specialties put on clinics for their backlogs, they’ll put in evening and weekday clinics, meaning many patients come in to have scans.
“Often the scans are to diagnose cancer, so have to be done within two weeks.”
However, it is a different story at Poole. Dr Ayer said: “We are able to prioritise scanning some of the most-unwell and challenging inpatients on the Ambition thus enabling us to deal with the increased amount of imaging arising from these additional clinics.”
Despite the postponement of MRI scans during the height of COVID-19, Poole Hospital has reduced backlogs and waiting times in 2021.
The hospital is now averaging an extra 30 patients scanned per month this year, compared to 2020.
MRI deputy superintendent radiographer, Aleksandra Kudyk, said: “Every year we see an increase of patients with pacemakers and implants. With ScanWise Implant we can easily adopt all those conditions and meet criteria.
“We scan the majority of pacemaker patients on Ambition because it is so simple and I have confidence my patient is safe and we know the implant will still work after the scan.”
For clinicians it is also essential to provide comfort to patients.
Philips has long been committed to making the world both healthier and more sustainable through meaningful innovation, and these values come together in the Ingenia Ambition X
Kudyk said: “Every day we have patients who are very thankful for the experience.
“For us as radiographers it is a game changer. It is a completely-different way of working.
“We can clean everything in between patients and we can keep the environment safe”.
Charlie McCaffrey, Philips UKI health systems lead, adds: “The MRI was invented in the UK, so it is fitting that the UK has introduced another imaging first at Poole Hospital.
“Philips has long been committed to making the world both healthier and more sustainable through meaningful innovation, and these values come together in the Ingenia Ambition X.
“Helium is a finite resource, with a large proportion being used in MR imaging scanners across the world and I am proud that we can offer this breakthrough technology that not only supports more patients in getting the care they need, but also does so in such a way that enables greater respect for the limited resources on Earth.”