Waiting a decade for PET scanner is not 'equity of access' MPP tells Ministry

The provincial government is fully funding a replacement PET/CT scanner for the hospital in Windsor. That news last week did not sit well with Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, who has been working for ten years to get the same technology in Sudbury.

Province to fully fund PET/CT scanner for Windsor while Sudbury lobbied for 10 years to get one

The hospital in Windsor will see a new replacement PET/CT scanner later this year that will be fully funded by the provincial government through Cancer Care Ontario.

After years of rallying and fundraising, northeastern Ontario is on track to get a positron emission tomography or PET scanner later this year at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.

However, last week the province announced it is fully funding a replacement scanner in Windsor.

That isn't sitting well with those who have been lobbying for a decade to bring the same equipment north.

"It was really hard for me not to get angry," says Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, after hearing the Windsor news.

She began advocating to bring PET scanner technology to Sudbury ten years ago, alongside the late Sam Bruno.
Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, the NDP Health Critic has been advocating to bring a PET scanner to northeastern Ontario since 2008.

After Bruno passed away in 2010 his family, friends and the Northern Cancer Foundation worked for years to raise $3.5 million to buy the specialised equipment. A PET scanner conducts nuclear imaging tests to detect diseases like cancer.

That financial goal was reached in November 2016. At that same time, the Ministry of Health announced it would provide capital dollars to pay for the construction of a special suite to hold the scanner at the hospital in Sudbury. Operational funding will also come from the provincial government.

The PET/CT scanner in Sudbury is on track to be up and running by the end of the year.

Gelinas, who is also the NDP Health Critic, says as a northerner the news of Windsor's new scanner left a sour taste in her mouth, especially after former health Minister Eric Hoskins boasted about being committed to equitable access to quality health care.

Gelinas thinks this current situation proves otherwise.

"Now that he has discovered that equity of access is important to people of southern Ontario ... it should have been like this for us. It should have been that he realized that equity of access is important and the ministry should have paid for the PET scan and brought it here years ago," Gelinas says.

She says all those behind working to bring the technology to the northeast had to go to a lot of effort to convince the government that equity of access mattered — in that this region needed a PET scanner. However ten years later northeastern Ontario is still waiting.

"I'm glad for Windsor. I'm so sorry for us. It feels like the North is a second class citizen, yet again."

Not an equity issue says Sudbury MPP

Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault explains this isn't an equity issue.
Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault says the reason Windsor is getting a replacement PET/CT scanner funded by the province, is to replace aging equipment it already had. (CBC)

"Windsor has had this equipment for the last 11 years, so this isn't new. What they're getting is a replacement, an updated PET/CT scanner," he says.

Thibeault says every community that currently has a PET/CT scanner had to go through the same process as Sudbury and the northeast did of raising funds and gaining the Ministry's approval.

Once operational, Sudbury will be one of the 14 existing PET/CT scanners sites in Ontario.

The Ministry is now recognizing that a lot of the current PET scanners in the province will need to be upgraded.

As part of the new replacement program, Thibeault says Cancer Care Ontario (CCO) will fund new PET/CT scanners for hospitals that are dealing with this aging equipment. Windsor is first on the list.

The Ministry of Health says health facilities are required to have an existing PET/CT scanner in order to become a part of this provincial program. In ten years, when Sudbury's PET scanner reaches the end of its life the CCO will fund a replacement.

"[Windsor] didn't get it at the snap of a finger. They had to go through the process. Historically they had to do what we've done. They had to advocate. They had to raise the money to get the equipment. The Ministry had to agree to do the capital funding and the operational funding."

New PET/CT to open in Sudbury later this year

Thibeault reminds Sudbury that Health Sciences North is still getting a top-of-the-line, new PET scanner later this year.

"Windsor is 10 years ahead of us, yes. But we just got the PET scanner. It's going to be built this summer, so that's why I'm saying not comparing apples to apples. I know all the hard work that went into this community to get the PET scanner," Thibeault says.

'Of course we all would like to see it done as soon as possible," he says.

"Construction is going to start and then we will have that PET scanner here to make sure everyone has equitable access."

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 13 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca