New EU directive that bans MRI scans would stop doctors saving lives – warns MEP
The European Union's Physical Agents - electromagnetic fields - Directive has been a long time in the making and it is incredibly important that we get it right. The original proposal for an EU directive to limit workers' exposure to electromagnetic fields was shelved in 2007, so that the European Commission could carry out further consultation on its content. The consultation sought advice from industry and the medical profession and made new proposals, which included an exemption for magnetic resonance imaging scanners. MRI uses magnetism and radio waves to look inside the body without surgery, harmful dyes or X-rays. We know that MRI can produce clear and accurate pictures of the human anatomy. The 2003 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging.
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit St Thomas's Hospital in my home constituency - where I witnessed a 3T higher image quality MRI scanner and met with Reza Razavi, who is professor of paediatric cardiovascular science at King's College London. Professor Razavi is a pioneer of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging and performed the world's first cardiac catheterisation procedures, using interventional MRI. The use of MRI lets him check blood flow as well as how the heart is beating. This allows him to treat patients with greater accuracy and efficiency.
Cardiac catheterisation involves inserting a tube into an artery or vein in the neck or leg, which is then guided into the heart. It is often used to diagnose or treat children and babies with a congenital heart condition. Using MRI during the procedure not only produces more accurate results, but it also reduces radiation exposure to patients and clinical staff - which is, especially, important as children are more susceptible to the harmful radiation produced by X-rays. I am shadowing the report on the directive for the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee. And I am broadly supportive of the commission's proposal – especially, the exemption for MRI scanners used in research laboratories and hospitals.
However, the Euroepan Council wishes to move quickly on this directive and – even, before the report has passed through parliament - member states have been discussing the legislation. What is alarming is that at least seven countries have indicated that they will not support proposals to exempt MRI scanners, with nine more undecided about the plan. While I understand the need to protect workers' health and safety, we are again facing the cliché that health and safety rules have "gone mad". In this case, I firmly believe that any proposals - which do not exempt MRI scanners - are crazy. I shall be calling on my colleagues on the committee to make an exception for the scanners as well as urging the full parliament only to support proposals that include an exemption. This is the best way to ensure that patients receive the highest standard of care across Europe.
We also need to ensure that proposals to ban workers from staying close to a running scanner that were included in the original 2004directive are not re-introduced. Such a ban would mean that Professor Razavi would no longer be able to perform the life-saving interventional MRI surgery, where he stands just a few feet from the scanner. The ban must also be lifted in the field of research; it took ten years for Professor Razavi to perfect his procedure and limiting the exemption to surgery only would put a brake on progress. Interventional MRI saves lives and, moreover, it predominantly saves children's lives. I shall be working hard in the European Parliament to ensure that extraordinary surgeons can continue to treat their patients with the aid of MRI scanners.Marina Yannakoudakis is a London MEP, in the UK, and Conservative Party health spokeswoman in the European Parliament