New hurdle in obtaining PET scanner for northeastern Ontario

The Sam Bruno PET scanner steering committee and the Northern Cancer Foundation have been working for more than six years to raise money for important medical equipment. But now there is a new stumbling block in the efforts to bring a positron emission tomography to northeastern Ontario.

Still no timeline for when the PET machine will be ready for patients

A patient is loaded into a PET scanner. Efforts have been underway for more than six years to bring this technology to northeastern Ontario (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The Sam Bruno PET scanner steering committee and the Northern Cancer Foundation have been working for more than six years to raise money for specialized medical equipment.

But now there is a new stumbling block in the efforts to bring a positron emission tomography or PET scanner to northeastern Ontario.

Tannys Laughren, executive director with the Northern Cancer Foundation (NCF), says to set up the machine at Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury, at least $4 million is needed for construction costs.

That's on top of the $4 million needed to purchase the machine.

A PET scan is a nuclear imaging test that creates images of the body and can detect everything from cancer to Alzheimer disease.

So far the NCF and the steering committee have been able to raise $2.5 million towards the goal.

Tannys Laughren of the Northern Cancer Foundation says a request has gone in to the Ministry of Health to seek funding for the construction required to install a PET scanner at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ont. (CBC)

Waiting on ministry approvals

In December 2015, the Ontario Ministry of Health announced it would provide annual operating dollars for a PET scanner for HSN, the hospital in Sudbury.

According to Laughre,n once they learned this news, NCF and HSN began working more in-depth at getting the machine to Sudbury. That was when they realized there would be construction costs to set up the space for the machine.

"[The PET scanner] requires some specialized walls. It requires storage for the isotopes that it needs to operate," Laughren said.

The PET scanner would be set up in the nuclear medicine department at Health Sciences North.

She says the NCF has put a request in for the Ministry of Health to fund that one-time construction expense, but they're still waiting to hear about approval.

This unexpected obstacle means further delays in bringing the whole project to fruition.

"[The Ministry of Health has] to approve architectural drawings. They have to approve the RFP process. They have to approve all of it. So you can imagine that it's going to take awhile to get through those steps," Laughren said.

In an email statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health said it  "looks forward to providing a response [to the hospital's RFP] soon. The installation of a permanent PET-CT service at HSN will serve the entire region, eliminating the need for a vast majority of patients currently travelling from the north to the other PET-CT sites in Ontario."

The ministry also added it is committed to provide the hospital with up to $1.6 million in annual operating funding for a permanent PET scanner.

'We just keep plowing ahead'

This new bump in the road hasn't deterred Brenda Tessaro, spokesperson for the Sam Bruno PET scanner steering committee.

"We just keep plowing ahead," she said.

"It's sheer steely determination that keeps us going, because we know how important having a PET scanner here in Sudbury is — and servicing the entire northeast."

Tessaro says the group has set a goal. They wants the remaining $1.5 million to be raised before the end of 2016.

She says access to a PET scanner would provide earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, and would allow patients to stay close to their family support system, and reduce unnecessary traveling for patients.

Currently patients in northeastern Ontario have to travel to Toronto or Ottawa to have a PET scan done.

"We are hoping to bring this to a close, sooner than later," Tessaro added.


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