Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children faces year-long wait for new MRI scanner
A vital scanner for Northern Ireland's main children's hospital hasn't been ordered and won't be in place for a year – despite the funds being in place.
The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is the only specialist children's hospital in the UK that doesn't have an MRI scanner which can be used to speed up the diagnoses of serious illnesses such as cancer.
Until the new scanner arrives, children here face a 26-week wait to use the adult MRI scanner at the Royal.
A three-year fundraising appeal to buy a scanner for the Children's Hospital was spearheaded by charities and the public.
It was heralded a success when it raised £2m and the Department of Health has also pledged to inject a further £2.75m into the project.
But it is understood the scanner hasn't been ordered yet and won't be installed until March next year.
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said the project remains "on programme" and that it was at the "procurement stage".
She said the ordering of the scanner will coincide with building work so as to ensure the Trust purchases the most modern, up-to-date equipment on the market.
She explained the new scanner cannot simply be placed in a fully functional hospital but that demolition and building works must take place first to accommodate it.
"Enabling works have started on the project. This work has to be carefully planned and undertaken given that the immediate location is an existing, fully operational, children's hospital."
However, Belfast mother Helen Skelly, whose little girl Leah is in remission from cancer, said it's a shame the scanner won't be available sooner.
"I really don't understand it. Why didn't this building work take place while everyone was fundraising? Six months is too long to wait for a scan. If we had waited and went through the system instead of taking Leah to casualty she would be dead instead of in remission. This is unjustifiable," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.
Deputy chair of Stormont's Health Committee, Jim Wells, has urged the Department of Health and Belfast Trust to look for a temporary solution.
"This scanner will save lives. Surely there is some space available where it can be put to use in the interim," he said.
Sarah Quinlan from Children's Heartbeat Trust, one of the charities that fundraised for the MRI scanner appeal, said: "The generosity of the Northern Ireland public means that we will soon have a full MRI scanner and accompanying facility located in the current children's hospital.
"Funds are in place to purchase, maintain, install and operate the scanner and while the current delay may be disappointing, we are assured that the scanner will be fully operational by spring 2015."
"I really don't understand it. Why didn't this building work take place while everyone was fundraising? Six months is too long to wait for a scan. If we had waited and went through the system instead of taking Leah to casualty she would be dead instead of in remission. This is unjustifiable."
Belfast mother Helen Skelly