Tenders expected to be issued for building to house equipment this fall
The province’s first positron emission tomography-commuted tomography (PET/CT) scanner is expected to be in operation by spring 2015.
But that’s too long to wait, says Opposition health critic Andrew Parsons, Liberal MHA for Burgeo-LaPoile.
“Government has been dragging their heels since 2007 to implement this critical piece of equipment in our health-care system,” Parsons said in a news release after Eastern Health and the provincial government gave an update on the project Thursday.
“With this government’s history of missed deadlines and costly delays, I’m concerned this scanner and facility won’t be available for the new promised completion date of 2015.”
The PET/CT scan project is part of Eastern Health’s new molecular imaging program at the Health Sciences Centre that will also include a cyclotron to manufacture medical isotopes required for PET/CT imaging. The full program is projected to be up and running by 2016.
Construction on the building to house the scanner is expected to be tendered this fall and will take 18 months to construct once underway.
But Parsons said Thursday the project has been too long in the making, as it was first promised by the PC government in 2007, $10 million earmarked in 2008 for the equipment and $29.8 million promised in government 2010.
In 2009, a Telegram story about the proposed PET project indicated the goal then was to have the equipment active by fall 2011 or 2012.
The new addition to the Health Sciences Centre will cost $30 million and the total project — including equipment — will be $40 million. Work will begin in early August to realign Clinch Crescent. The new facility will be behind the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre. In addition, the Janeway emergency department will get a new entrance.
The three-level building will also have room for future expansion of the cancer centre.
It’s expected about 1,200 oncology scans will be done on the PET scanner each year, but it can handle 2,000.
The PET/CT scanner provides two tests in one to provide a much more detailed look at what’s happening in the body than other tools.
The diagnostic imagining equipment is expected to allow better detection of cancer and clearer indications of how a patient is responding to treatment, said Dr. Peter Hollett, clinical chief of nuclear medicine.
“Statistics show a change in treatment plan for 30 per cent of all cancer patients,” Hollett said.
It will be mostly used for cancer patients but has potential for cardiac and neurological cases, including Alzheimer's.
About 300 patients have been sent out of province a year for PET scans, usually to Halifax.
“We know the other 900 patients who could benefit would be able to have that test if it were here but they are unable to travel outside of the province either due to personal or medical reasons,” Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminiski said, noting this province is one of the few without the equipment.
In September, Eastern Health will begin public information sessions on the molecular imaging program.
In order to produce the isotopes, the project will require regulatory approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Health Canada because the cyclotron produces ionizing radiation.
The production of the isotopes locally is essential, Hollett said, because certain types have short expiry times.
But Hollett told The Telegram the PET scans themselves pose a lower radiation risk to patients than other diagnostic imaging.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan noted that Newfoundland and Labrador will have one PET/CT scanner per 500,000 people rather than the average one per one million people around the country.
“Having a PET scanner service available for the first time in our province will be a very big step in terms of our ability to diagnose and manage cancer, neurological and cardiac disorders,” Sullivan said.
Dr. James Rourke, dean of the Memorial University medical school said the new program will offer expanded research opportunities in such fields as stroke, cancer care, brain trauma and obesity.