Lung perfusion and ventilation studies hit by radioisotope shortage


By Michael Woodhead

20 Sep 2019

Alternative diagnostic PET scans are being substituted for nuclear medicine lung perfusion studies due to a critical national shortage of radioisotopes, the government has announced.

A complete halt in production of Mo-99 at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisations’ (ANSTO) facility at Lucas Heights, Sydney, means that supplies of radionucleotides will be extremely limited for the next few months, the federal minister for health Greg Hunt said on 13 September.

And the shortage is likely to worsen because only very limited alternative supplies are being sourced from South Africa, the minister said.

“It is important that prioritisation of the most urgent cases occurs and I have been assured that ANSTO and the Nuclear Medicine Working Group are ensuring supply is distributed to patients around the country as equitably as possible,”  said Mr Hunt.

The Australia and NZ Society for Nuclear Medicine (ANZSNM) has warned that supplies of Technetium-99m (TC-99m) will be extremely limited in coming weeks. It noted that the Department of Health has therefore made temporary provisions under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to allow access to relevant PET services to ensure continuity of care for patients.

“As everyone is aware, we are currently facing an extremely challenging time with the mechanical breakdown at ANSTO’s ANM facility leading to a total cessation of Mo-99 production in Australia. Even with sourcing Mo-99 from overseas we will still be facing a significant shortage of Tc-99m availability,” ANZSNM, said in a statement.

“The severity of the shortage of Tc-99m, combined with the unknown length of time of reduced availability, is extremely concerning.”

The Society said it was working with federal and state health departments on ways to try to minimise patient impact of the shortages.

“One of these strategies is the substitution of a Tc-99m scan by an equivalent PET scan, should that be available. This will assist by diverting Tc-99m studies to PET, where appropriate and available, and will release Tc-99m supply to sites where PET is not available.”

Radiopharmaceutical substitution for six new MBS items has been made available from September 17 for 3 months. These include item 61333 for a lung perfusion study and lung ventilation study with PET.


These parallel items use PET and/or alternative radiopharmaceuticals to provide equivalent diagnostic imaging services.

A working group of stakeholders was told by ANZSTO that production of Mo-99 was unlikely to resume for several weeks.

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