Small hospitals run out of isotopes this week

Smaller hospitals across the country will run out of medical isotopes this week, leaving many cancer and heart patients scrambling to find alternatives.

OTTAWA — Smaller hospitals across the country will run out of medical isotopes this week, leaving many cancer and heart patients scrambling to find alternatives.

The sobering news comes amid demands that Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt resign for calling the isotope shortage a “sexy” issue.

The head of the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine says smaller hospitals have been told they won’t receive isotope shipments from nuclear reactors in the Netherlands and South Africa on Thursday and Friday.

“There is a marked reduction in availability of medical isotopes this Thursday and Friday, where the shipments that we were hoping would be coming in from South Africa and the Netherlands will not be arriving,” Dr. Christopher O’Brien said.

“For some of our smaller hospitals, there will be absolutely no medical isotope availability Thursday and Friday of this week.”

O’Brien says that means some patients booked on those days for diagnostic scans to detect cancer and heart ailments may have to be rescheduled.

Uncertainty about hospitals getting their isotopes over the weekend and into next week has left doctors and patients in limbo, he added.

“This will be across Canada. And it’ll be a patchwork effect as well,” O’Brien said.

“Some centres will be a little better off than others. We tend to see the rural centres are the ones that are impacted significantly moreso than the urban centres that can pool their medical isotopes more effectively based on the geography that they’re in.”

This week’s shortage comes as Raitt is being buffeted by indiscretions caught on tape.

In a tape of a private conversation between Raitt and an aide, the minister calls the isotope issue “sexy.”

Raitt also fended off calls for her resignation last week after the same aide left behind secret government documents about Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. at a television studio.

An extended isotope shortage could further scorch Raitt.

Last week, the minister said progress has been made in global discussions to pick up the slack left by the shutdown of an aging reactor at Chalk River, Ont. She credited “Canadian leadership” for the progress.

Raitt said a reactor in the Netherlands has agreed to increase its supply of medical isotopes by at least 50 per cent, and a South African reactor is also ramping up production.

And, she said, an Australian reactor is now expected to come online “much quicker than they had expected.”

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