New PET scanner sits idle at Winnipeg hospital without staff to operate it

The installation of a new PET scanner in Manitoba was done months ago, but there’s no staff hired yet to operate it.

Positron Emission Tomography, or PET, is an imaging test that uses nuclear medicine to show the body’s metabolism. The scans are largely used to diagnose and monitor cancer.

According to Shared Health the province’s new scanner was ordered to replace an old one that was first installed at John Buhler Research Centre back in 2005.

Another PET system is also in use at Health Sciences Centre, which came online in January 2021.

“In order to meet a growing demand for PET scans, plans were in place to have both systems providing PET scans in the province,” reads a written statement from a Shared Health spokesperson. “However, while still functional as a backup, the older PET system was reaching a point where it would eventually not perform at the level clinical staff would like, so a replacement was required.”

Shared Health said installation on the newest PET scanner was completed in January,

However, the statement said they anticipate staffing recruitment efforts for the newest machine will begin soon.

Meantime, there are concerns the new machine will sit idle for much longer than the few months that have already gone by since the installation was complete.

“We want to see patients benefitting from equipment that’s installed. As professionals, we want to use equipment that’s installed,” said Dayna McTaggart, the provincial manager of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CARMT-MB)

She told CTV News Winnipeg the demand for PET scans is only increasing in Manitoba and across the country. According to McTaggart, there was a 25 per cent increase between 2015 and 2020 in the number of scans done in the province, but the number of nuclear medicine staff has stayed relatively stable.

McTaggart said there are about 50 nuclear medicine technologists who registered themselves as full-time members of CARMT-MB.

She notes nuclear medicine technologists have to go out of province to be trained, and the course takes 22 months to complete.

It’s why she would like to see a serious effort made for recruitment and education so these new positions aren’t filled by existing staff who would just leave another vacancy behind.

“So while we might say that, ‘yes this second PET scanner is fully staffed,’ if we look at the whole landscape of Manitoba and the nuclear medicine department, it will just create vacancies in other areas,” she explained.

The staffing shortage is not unique to Manitoba, and McTaggart said one issue that may not make our province a desirable place to work is the fact nuclear medicine technologists have an expired union contract.

“Recruitment and retention is a huge issue within allied health as a whole, and nuclear medicine is another example of that,” said Jason Linklater, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, the union that represents nuclear medicine technologists.

He is also concerned that there is a fully functional piece of diagnostic equipment that is not operational.

“We are finding more and more that the human resources part of the plan is often left out, particularly within allied health, where it’s very specialized people that are required to run this equipment,” Linklater said.

Shared Health said both of the current PET systems have an appropriate lab for dispensing the radiopharmaceuticals used for imaging, and both locations have areas suitable for injecting patients with radiopharmaceuticals.

They also said a PET system costs between $2 million and $3.5 million, depending on configuration and capabilities, which does not include costs for site preparation and installation or support equipment for dose dispensing and injecting.

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