"More warning and sympathetic staff needed during MRI scan "

About: Royal Lancaster Infirmary

(as the patient),

When I arrived in good time for my MRI scan the receptionist looked up from the dingy, windowless reception area without a word or a shadow of a smile. Having checked on her computer that I was, indeed, booked in she handed me a clipboard with instructions to fill in the attached form.

The form appeared to have originally been produced on one of the earliest dot matrix printers and it had been copied – crookedly – so many times it was barely legible. I completed it and returned to the reception window. The receptionist was now chatting to a colleague who was eating what looked and smelled like a chilli con carne from a polystyrene take-away container. The receptionist, still unsmiling and following a nod in my direction from her colleague, turned and took back the clipboard.

An elderly woman – the only other patient in the waiting room – was then called through a doorway by the receptionist and I heard another person ask whether she had ever had an MRI scan before. I had been told the scan took a minimum of 25 minutes and, guessing that the RLI didn’t actually have two scanners operating simultaneously, I reckoned I would now need to wait for at least 25 minutes so I settled down with the book I’d brought with me.

Less than 5 minutes later the receptionist called me through, ascertained that there was no metal about my person and told me to put my handbag in a locker and hold on to the key. I did so. Now I would wait, isolated and in a tiny curtained cubicle in a narrow corridor, for a further 20 minutes.

Finally I was called by a woman who introduced herself as the radiographer and asked if I had ever had an MRI scan before. I said I had not. She told me I would be having a short scan of my neck. I queried this as the physiotherapist who had referred me had said it would be a 50 minute scan of my spine. She checked her paperwork and confirmed that the shorter scan had been requested and added that the person who had referred me probably didn’t know how MRI scans worked. As well as being extremely unprofessional, that comment did nothing for my confidence.

Having positioned me on the scanner, the radiographer handed me a buzzer and said I could press it at any time. She also said if I wanted I could have either ear plugs or ear phones with music. I opted for classical music, confident that some soothing Mozart or Beethoven would ease my anxiety. (The letter confirming my appointment contained a fairly lengthy paragraph about how an MRI scanner works and a very short paragraph about what I actually might experience. I was totally ignorant of what was to come. )

Once I was in the scanner and the radiographer had left the room an erratic knocking sound started. I decided I could probably cope with 25 minutes of that. But when the music began – the Halleluiah Chorus at a very high volume – I was absolutely shocked, too shocked to think straight. And then the real noise of the scanner started. It was like standing next to someone using a hammer drill to break up a tarmac road. I was horrified and terrified. I started to panic. Should I press the buzzer? What would that mean? Would we have to start all over again? Would I get serious disapproval? Was someone else sitting in a tiny cubicle in the corridor, waiting for me to be finished with? I had to work seriously hard to stop myself from screaming. Occasionally the noise stopped, the bed moved, but then it started again – no warning, no pattern, no sense of how long I’d been there, no words of reassurance or comfort from anyone. It was like a horrible nightmare.

When it was finally over the radiographer seemed surprised when she asked ‘Was it as bad as you’d expected? ’ and I said that it had been far worse. She said maybe I should have opted for the spoken word rather than music. I was baffled. I don’t know how I would have heard any spoken words over that hammer drill but, anyway, I hadn’t been offered that option.

When she opened the door back into the corridor I was totally bewildered and confused. Where were the lockers? Where was my handbag? Nothing looked remotely familiar. The radiographer laughed and said ‘Most people are disorientated afterwards. ’ Why isn’t that made clear in the appointment letter? I really should have had someone to take me home. At the very least it could have been suggested that I sit down for a few minutes to reorientate myself, perhaps been offered a glass of water. In fact I live very close to the hospital but I had to concentrate very hard on every step before I was home and felt safe again.

I was extremely distressed by my experience and feel I could have been far better prepared and far more kindly, courteously and respectfully treated. I have since talked to an elderly acquaintance who had an MRI scan at the RLI very recently and she said she had been treated more sympathetically but that the noise of the scanner had ‘terrified’ her. Why are patients not given an honest but reassuring indication of what to expect? Some caring thought and ongoing training could make a real difference to patients who are invariably anxious, whatever their age or state of health – and would probably also have a positive knock on effect to staff.

The radiographer ended by saying if I didn’t hear in two weeks I should telephone the health centre that had referred me. Today – nineteen days later – having heard nothing I called and was told the results weren’t through from the hospital as there is a backlog.

I am passionate about the NHS and appreciate the whole organisation is going through an extremely difficult time but a smile and a little empathy can lift everyone up.

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Response from University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

Thank you for posting a comment about our services at Royal Lancaster Infirmary. We are really sorry that your experience at our hospital wasn’t what you would expect. Please could you contact our Patient Relations team on 01539 795497 to allow us to investigate the issues you raise and so we can respond directly to you.