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Tue 21 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Patient scans scrapped in hospital imaging shortage

Vital medical treatments are being delayed or cancelled at hospitals across the Middle East because of a global shortage of radioactive imaging agents, Medical Times can reveal.

Vital medical treatments are being delayed or cancelled at hospitals across the Middle East because of a global shortage of radioactive imaging agents, Medical Times can reveal.

Hospitals are receiving less than half their normal supplies of technetium-99, a key ingredient in more than 80% of routine diagnostic nuclear imaging tests.

The shortage has delayed treatment for hundreds of patients who are still waiting to undergo diagnostic heart and bone scans and some cancer detection procedures.

The shortfall is expected to continue until mid-October.

Dr Phong Nguyen from the nuclear medicine department of the American Hospital, Dubai, said he had been forced to suspend imaging services.

"We've had to cancel everything because we have no isotopes. It's certainly been a disruption and it's hard to say when supply will resume."

The department normally screens up to seven patients a day, he said.

Government hospitals have also been hit. Dr Abdulrahim Al Suhaili, head of the nuclear medicine department at Dubai Hospital, said doctors were prioritising emergency cases.

"We've been almost grounded. Technetium is bread and butter for us.

"We've had to call all the patients scheduled for scans and send an alert to doctors asking them to seek alternative tests where they can."

The move has put added pressure on other diagnostic modalities, such as MRI and CT scans, Dr Al Suhaili said.

"We'd usually see around 20 patients a week, so there's a definite cost associated with referring patients out. Wait times are already long - up to five weeks for an MRI scan."

King Hussein Cancer Centre, one of Jordan's largest oncology facilities, has cut its nuclear imaging services by half until normal supply resumes.

"We're down to 10 patients a week," said Dr Farid Al Risheq, head of the hospital's nuclear medicine unit. "That's more than a 50% decrease."

The shortfall has been caused by the temporary closure of reactors in Europe, Canada and South Africa that make the isotopes.

Because the isotopes decay rapidly, they can't be stockpiled, leading to growing shortages at medical centers.

Hospitals in the Middle East are entirely dependent on imported isotopes.

The British Nuclear Medicine Society, which first published a warning highlighting the shortfall in the British Medical Journal, has called for funding for new reactors.

Professor Alan Perkins, honorary secretary for the society, said he expected the fall out from the isotopes shortage to be considerable.

"It just means the waiting lists of patients will increase and we must schedule patients according to priority."

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