A mobile MRI scanner placed in the car park of Wilson Hospital in Mitcham is helping patients across south west London cut their waiting times for a scan down.

The scanner was installed by St George’s University Hospitals NHS Trust as part of a programme to increase access to life-saving diagnostic tests as the NHS recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

Funding for the project came, the Trust said, from the £12 million awarded nationally to the NHS in South West London to increase the capacity of existing diagnostic services at the trust’s Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton site, as well as boosting mobile testing in the community.

MRI scans have hugely improved diagnostic medicine since their introduction by allowing medical staff to examine in great detail almost any part of the body, including the brain and spinal cord, bones and joints, breasts, heart and blood vessels and other crucial internal organs, such as the liver, womb or prostate gland.

The results of MRI scans can be used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective previous treatment has been.

As well as St George's, the scanner is available to be used by two other south west London NHS trusts, namely Epsom and St Helier and Croydon. The equipment was installed on 4 October and began scanning patients immediately.

Richard Billington, deputy director of imaging at St George’s, said it was already helping patients get vital scans more quickly across south west London.

"This site is really handy for those three trusts as it's virtually equidistant between each of them. We know that patients who live in this area really do love that it’s on their doorstep," he said. "We started doing about 17 or 18 scans a day, but we are increasing that to 21 per day now and eventually into the mid-20’s - which will be absolutely fantastic. Once we got the site working, our MRI waits at St George’s went from six weeks down to four. Epsom and St Helier have been able to reduce their wait along similar lines."

His words were echoed by the experience of Patient Antony Osborne, who described his experience: "I cycled from Battersea to have an MRI scan. The first time I’ve had one done in my life. My appointment was for 11.30 but I was seen at 11 minutes past – which was good. The machine can be very claustrophobic – though not for me, I’m a caver, used to small spaces. I was treated with utmost respect, we had a laugh, I think it lasted for 25 minutes."

Billington added that as his team continued to develop their capacity with the new station, they could work to meet demand even further going forward.

"It's about maximising this new capacity for each of the sites depending on where the pinch points are," he said. "So, if an of the SWL trusts have issues like a scanner going down or they have backlog issues, we can flex the capacity to meet that challenge."

Sue Baillie Chief Radiographer at St George’s added: "It’s a real benefit for patients to come to the Wilson and have their MRI scan. It allows them to have their scan earlier than expected and closer to home."