Nuclear shutdown could harm health
The shutdown of Australia’s only nuclear medicine generator could endanger patients in rural and regional areas.
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) runs a generator at Lucas Heights near Sydney that produces about 10,000 doses a week of Technetium-99m (Tc-99m).
The material is supplied to medical facilities around Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific for use in medical diagnostic tests.
However, the generator has been offline since June 22 due to a mechanical fault. ANSTO says the issue will take “some weeks” to repair.
Usually, back-up supplies would be flown in from South Africa in such situations, but that plant has been temporarily shut down too.
Australia has sourced Tc-99m from the United States, but one of the planes delivering it has been held up due to mechanical issues.
Australia has now received a set of Tc-99m generators from the US, which have been distributed to 24 hospitals in metropolitan areas, 12 regional and rural medical facilities and five Global Medical Solutions Australia sites.
These will cover less than 40 per cent of normal weekly supply.
Nuclear medicine practitioner Peter Tually, director of WA’s Kalgoorlie Medical Imaging, said communication from ANSTO has been pretty poor.
“There needs to be greater assistance given by the government to ANSTO to deal with this,” he said.
“ANSTO are more than qualified at the nuclear physics level and we have a good relationship with them, but they do not have the clinical expertise to determine where available supplies need to most urgently be sent.
“In Kalgoorlie we don’t have that richness of alternative services. Kalgoorlie is the most remote site on the planet in terms of its distance from the reactor and there is no CT scanner or echocardiography here. Heart disease and cancers are the biggest killers, and delaying diagnosis is a very bad thing.
“I’ve had to fly a patient to Perth and my colleagues in regional towns around the country are facing the same issue. Patients are having to leave loved ones to fly to Perth or Sydney.
“We’ve never had this shortage happen to this extent before ... previous shortages have lasted a couple of days, max.”