Scanner up and running for public patients

From today, public cancer patients in the south will be able to use a €3.8m PET/CT scanner at Cork University Hospital — but private patients will still be forced to travel to Dublin, Galway, or Waterford.

Negotiations between private health insurers, VHI, Laya Healthcare, and the HSE had not reached agreement in time for today’s opening of the super scanning machine.

The scanner will only be available to public patients two days a week due to budgetary constraints. The hospital’s radiology budget has not been increased because the long-awaited PET scanner is operational.

The PET/CT scanner, which has been lying idle at CUH for the past three years, provides a more thorough scan of cancers and can detect tumours regular CT scanners won’t pick up.

Until now, all public cancer patients in the region had to travel to St James’s Hospital in Dublin for the test. Many of them were seriously unwell and exhausted from chemotherapy at the time of travel. Private patients could travel to private hospitals in Dublin, Galway, or Waterford.

It is four years since the €6.85m treatment and diagnostic facility where the equipment is based was given planning permission. It is nearly five years since the project was announced.

According to CUH consultant radiologist Dr Kevin O’Regan, the PET scanner will be used in the detection of cancers, mapping out the extent of disease, and deciding best treatment options.

“It will give us a lot more detail than a regular CT scan, showing us the behaviour of the tumour and how aggressive it is. It will also detect types of tumours that regular CT scans can’t,” he said.

According to VHI and Laya Healthcare, negotiations are ongoing. VHI say Alliance Medical were only appointed to run the PET scanner at the end of last month and that they were only approached recently to cover the new scanner.

Aviva Healthcare has agreed to cover the scanner but its customer base is much narrower than that of the two larger players.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health Jerry Buttimer has encouraged the HSE to “prioritise the review”.

“Private insurers have an obligation to provide their customers with convenient access to cutting-edge diagnostics and treatment. It is imperative for patients across south Munster that the private health insurers live up to their responsibilities and facilitate their customers in accessing the PET scanner at CUH.”

The scanner will be operated at CUH by a private company, Alliance Medical for six months. The HSE could not run the project due to the recruitment embargo so Alliance Medical will supply all radiographers, secretarial and healthcare assistant staff. The HSE has provided a consultant radiologist.


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