What is the issue?
- Nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat disease
- 99m Technetium is one type of radiopharmaceutical used in over 70% of nuclear medicine scans to investigate patients with a range of different clinical problems. For example, it can be used to investigate conditions affecting the brain, lungs, bones and kidneys
- The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) facility in Lucas Heights produces the 99m Technetium used in Australia
- A mechanical fault occurred at the ANTSO facility on 6 September 2019 and as a result, Australia is currently experiencing a very limited supply of 99m Technetium
- ANTSO is investigating the cause of the fault and working to import additional supply from overseas but it is not known when supply will return to normal
What does the shortage mean for patients?
- In many circumstances where 99m Technetium is used, there are equivalent alternative tests available, for example positron emission tomography (PET) utilising sodium fluoride is a suitable alternative for bone scans
- However there are some circumstances where alternative tests cannot be done, and ensuring patients who require these can access 99m Technetium scans during the shortage is a priority
- Nuclear medicine experts have been advising state and territory governments and the Australian Government which scans require prioritisation during the shortage
- This means some patients will have an alternative scan done or the 99m Technetium scan they require may be delayed, if these options are clinically appropriate
What is being done to address the shortage?
- The Australian Government has added six temporary item substitute tests to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to enable broader access to nuclear medicine scans using alternative technologies (such as PET) and/or alternative radiopharmaceuticals (such as 68Gallium) to minimise out-of-pocket cost to patients and increase access to other scans during the 99m Technetium shortage
- These temporary MBS items can be requested by any medical practitioner including GPs at the same fee as the equivalent 99m Technetium scan
- NSW Health is working with ANTSO, the Australian Government, Local Health Districts and nuclear medicine experts to ensure the limited supply is directed to patients who need it most and to identify alternative tests and obtain supply of other radiopharmaceuticals where possible to minimise the impact on patients
If you are concerned this issue might affect you, please contact your Local Health District Nuclear Medicine Department, speak to your healthcare provider or refer to the Australian & New Zealand Society of Nuclear Medicine .