HUNDREDS of NHS patients are being sent to private hospitals for MRI scans due to a surge in demand.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) has been unable to offer enough scanning appointments this winter, and the problem was compounded when the MRI scanner at Burnley General suffered a breakdown in December.

The mechanical failure, along with a ‘misunderstanding’ of the referral process to the private Beardwood Hospital in Blackburn, led to 65 patients waiting longer than six weeks for a scan.

The Burnley scanner is now back in action, but the trust will be reliant on the Beardwood Hospital until May, when the Royal Blackburn Hospital is due to get a second £1million scanner.

A surge in referrals last October prompted plans for 40 cases per week to be referred to the Beardwood, with the scans funded by ELHT. But recent board papers said: “The Beardwood referral plan failed in November due to a misunderstanding of the referral agreement.”

The papers said the issue has now been addressed, with another private hospital in Preston on standby if the Beardwood is full.

According to the papers, 1.04 per cent of patients waited more than six weeks for a diagnostics test in December, against a target of 1 per cent.

Duncan Gavan, clinical director of diagnostic and clinical support, said: “We have just invested in a software upgrade for the MRI scanner at Burnley General Hospital.

“During this work we had an additional mobile MRI scanner based on the Royal Blackburn Hospital site as there was no dedicated power supply to support this on the Burnley site.”