17 Nov, 2021

NHS budget boosted for new MRI scanners, but 1.4 million patients still await diagnostic tests

Rishi Sunak's 2021 budget saw the NHS in England receive £5.9bn to beat the backlog of patients waiting for diagnostic scans. As of June 2021, up to 1.4million people were waiting for a range of diagnostic procedures, including MRI scans, CT scans, colonoscopies and non-pregnancy related ultrasounds. The delays and lengthier waiting times have been attributed to hospital closures and staff shortages as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Obsolete equipment adds to wait times

Buying more scanners to reduce the waiting list for NHS MRIs is not the only target for this new funding. The budget allocation is also to be spent on updating equipment and improving IT, after recent investigations by Channel 4's Dispatches found that around a third of NHS trusts were using "technically obsolete" CT and MRI scanners aged over ten years old.

After ten years, scanners are deemed to be out of date, as they start to break down more frequently, are slower to run, and produce lower quality images. Findings revealed that MRI scanners up to 21 years old are still used within the NHS, and reduced reliability can lead to repeated procedures and longer waits.

How long is the wait for NHS diagnostic scanning?

With around 15,000 people waiting longer than thirteen weeks for an MRI scan, despite NHS England's constitution stating people referred for tests should be treated within just six weeks, the backlog will no doubt take time to clear. Before the pandemic, fewer than 5% of patients waited longer than six weeks for all diagnostic imaging, but this number now sits at a staggering 15%.

The government's mission to increase the number of scanning devices and improve their reliability comes with a further obstacle. Purchasing more scanners does not necessarily lead to reduced waiting times, as there is a shortage of staff trained to carry out diagnostic imaging scans. A tenth of radiologist jobs are currently unfilled, and there was a scanning staff outsourcing spend of nearly £140m in 2018. Without a boost to radiologist numbers within the NHS, there are still barriers to break if the waiting lists are to be cut back to pre-pandemic levels.

How can private MRI scans help?

If you have a health concern or are awaiting an important diagnosis, a six-week wait can feel like an eternity. We understand that not everybody wants to have a private scan, but taking matters of your health into your own hands does not have to be as difficult or expensive as you might think.
If you are able to self-book a private MRI scan, you could save yourself precious waiting time, and maximise the potential of any treatment you might need.
National MRI Scan offers MRI imaging without the need for a GP referral, and you can be screened and referred by our clinical team within 7 days. Our in-house clinicians will handle everything for you, without taking up any NHS time. A follow-up consultation and recommendations for onward referral are also provided.
Prices start at just £289, and you can choose from over 100 scanning locations to find an MRI near you with up-to-date equipment.

🏥 Why wait? Book a private MRI scan with us today.


  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-59030945
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/oct/18/nhs-england-hospitals-having-to-rely-on-obsolete-imaging-equipment
  3. https://www.rcr.ac.uk/posts/government-pledges-£200m-new-imaging-scanners
  4. https://www.supplychain.nhs.uk/news-article/nhs-england-funding-injecting-200-million-into-aged-asset-replacement/
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