EDMONTON -- Thirty-three million dollars of Alberta's 2021 record-high health budget will be used to get non-emergency patients CT and MRI scans faster.

Alberta Health Services is expected to perform about 50,000 more CT exams and 45,000 more MRI exams – representing a 12 per cent and 22 per cent increase, respectively – over the year.  

Some of the dollars will be used to cover the technical and professional fees paid to radiologists per exam.

"For more scans to be done, that means more that is paid to the radiologists," explained Health Minister Tyler Shandro at a news conference Friday morning.

AHS' Dr. Mark Joffee added the dollars would also cover extra staff and system improvements in the referral and booking processes.

"Ultimately we will actually reduce the cost per test but we will be able to perform more tests over the course of the year."

Dr. Mark Joffe, AHS

The changes are part of what the government is calling an "aggressive plan" to address a years-long backlog worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to government data, there were 29,000 more Albertans waiting for MRI or CT tests in March 2019 than four years earlier. Shandro says he directed AHS in early 2020 to begin addressing the issue.

By 2024-25, CT scans are expected to number around 600,000 and MRIs 255,000.


The health minister urged Albertans to continue to seek help from the health system, noting demand appeared to fall when COVID-19 arrived in the province.

"The pandemic has decreased demand for the exams. Fewer physicians are ordering them because fewer patients are seeking care. And we're seeing the same thing with MRIs," he told reporters. Between March and December 2020, the CT waitlist had shrunk by six per cent and the MRI waitlist by 10 per cent.

"This is happening in other areas as well, from emergency to cancer screenings, and it's not what we want to see."

Tyler Shandro

Shandro expects demand to grow again as more vaccine is doled out, but he issued a reminder: "The system is safe and people should seek care when they need it."

Alberta allocated $23 billion to health in Budget 2021, which was passed in the legislature Thursday evening.