A HOSPITAL trust has admitted it was spending approximately £2.5m a year with a private company on MRI scans before it opted to take such services in-house.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said its contract with Alliance Medical at Bishop Auckland Hospital and Darlington Memorial Hospital covered the cost of loaning the equipment, maintenance and employing radiographic staff.

An ongoing fundraising appeal has since enabled the trust to install new scanners from manufacturer Philips in Bishop Auckland last December and in Darlington in May, once building work to accommodate them was completed.

Modern scanners help consultants diagnose life threatening conditions such as cancer, heart disease and strokes, potentially avoiding the need for exploratory and sometimes invasive surgery.

The number of MRI scans carried out by the trust has almost doubled between 2010 and 2017 with 23,653 scans being performed between April 2016 and March last year.

It is understood the Alliance contract, which was ended when it came up for renewal last year, did not cover the University Hospital of North Durham, which has always owned its own scanner.

The trust said it had undertaken a full financial analysis to determine the most cost-effective method of scanning patients and concluded that the best option was repatriating the scanners and providing an in-house service across the trust.

A spokeswoman said: “As the numbers of patients being scanned increases, the cost-per-case when provided internally decreases, making best use of taxpayers’ money.

“Bringing the service in-house also gives us control over opening hours, staff recruitment and development and much more.”

The spokeswoman said the contract with Alliance Medical had worked well for a number of years and meant patients could have MRI scans closer to home rather than travel to larger teaching hospitals for the service.

She said: “An MRI scanner was prohibitively expensive for most hospitals and today remains the most expensive piece of equipment most trusts have.

“So many hospitals entered into contracts with companies like Alliance Medical to provide a full MRI service.

“Our contract with Alliance Medical meant that we paid them on a scan by scan basis, so the annual cost fluctuated from around £2m to £2.5m per year covering both Darlington Memorial Hospital and Bishop Auckland Hospital.”

The spokeswoman said the new MRI scanners included a wider tunnel, reducing the likelihood of a patient feeling claustrophobic, ambient lighting, and at Darlington the ability to watch a film during the scan.

The fund raising appeal to pay for the Philips scanners continues until the end of the year and has been supported by the likes of Darlington Rotary Club, as well as local businesses and numerous individuals.