Stockport primary care trust wanted to implement direct access referrals from GPs to the magnetic resonance imaging service at Stockport imaging centre (SIMC).

For SIMC operator Lodestone Patient Care, the key to the success of the project was customer focus and people management. The company offered a dedicated contact to ensure the PCT got its desired outcomes.

In initial meetings with Stockport PCT in March 2004, commissioning managers could discuss their needs with local private diagnostic imaging providers. Lodestone created extra capacity on the SIMC MRI scanner to accommodate GP direct-access referrals.

Because of the multi-stakeholder nature of the PCT there were meetings to engage the professional executive committee chair for clinical direction on the roll-out of the GP direct access programme.

Prior experience in GP direct access helped to reinforce confidence in the programme, and Lodestone developed specific diagnostic care pathways to assist GPs in using the service. The PCT particularly wanted knee and back pain pathways.

There was further engagement with other stakeholders in the PCT, including the primary and community care commissioning lead, finance director, medical director and community practitioner.

Representatives from the PCT were shown round the unit and given the opportunity to see a patient being scanned, as well as meeting the team. This was invaluable for making a sometimes enigmatic service more tangible for commissioners.

PCTs wanting to find out more about rolling out a GP direct access programme for MRI may want to read articles such as 'Direct access MRI for general practitioners' (Clinical Radiology, 1998; 53: 58-60) and 'Open access neuro-imaging for general practitioners: diagnostic yield and influence on patient management' (British Journal of General Practice, January 2002).