Brexit could result in a “traumatic failure” to deliver medical isotopes on time to cancer patients

Scottish Parliament FGLocal MSP David Stewart, Labour, introduced a Members debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 26th of September on the disastrous results of leaving  EURATOM for cancer patients. In the debate he explained that Brexit could result in a “traumatic failure” to deliver medical isotopes on time to cancer patients. David Stewart, is Labour’s Shadow Health Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

Medical radioisotopes are used in radiotherapy for treatment of cancer and in nuclear medicine for both diagnostic work and therapy.

The principal radioisotope used worldwide is Technetium, derived from a parent element that has a half-life of 66 hours.  This element is obtained from a small number of research nuclear reactors – none of which are located in the UK.  The Hinkley Point nuclear research facility, planned for 2027, could produce medical isotopes but not until it is ready.

The bulk of the UK’s supply is from the EU, facilitated by EURATOM Supply Operation.

David Stewart said:

David Stewart MSP“We already have a world shortage of medical isotopes.

“A key provider, Canada, has just ceased production. The EU is home to four of the top six producers. The distance to Australia and South Africa means they are problematic providers – supply would be limited by the decay of medical isotopes which would occur during transportation.”

David Stewart said the key issue was that isotopes have short half-lives. That means they decay rapidly and cannot be stored.  This creates an urgent need for constant, reliable and predictable supply.  But this has failed in the past and created global shortages.  EURATOM has a central and crucial leadership role –it supervises the supply chains.

“There was a crisis in 2008 with the closure of the Channel Tunnel.  Then again in 2015, industrial action in Calais caused chaos in the transportation of isotopes and therefore the cancellation of treatment in the UK,” he said.

“A clear and present danger to the NHS in Scotland and beyond is the loss of frictionless borders post-Brexit.  This could result in a traumatic failure to deliver medical isotopes on time to cancer patients.”

David Stewart said that the scale of use is immense and invaluable.  In the UK, around 700,000 nuclear medicine procedures are carried out each year, with around 70,000 of those in Scotland.  It is essential in diagnosing coronary disease, detecting the spread of cancer to the bones, and biomedical research.

He called for the UK Government to come to an agreement that allows the country to remain a part of EURATOM.

He also said that there could be a move to create more cyclotrons in Scotland – this facility (a linear accelerator) produces radioisotopes for PET and CT Scanners.

David Stewart said:

“There are three in Scotland – Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen but no spare capacity to other PET Centres such as Dundee.

“There is a case for a PET Scanner in Inverness, with Highland spending £300K on scans alone. However, a large scale switch is expensive.”

You can watch the debate here

Members’ Business: The Impact of Leaving EURATOM

September 26, 2018 17:00

Duration: 34 minutes 14 seconds

That the Parliament notes what it sees as the importance of the medical isotopes that are used in radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer, diagnostic work and therapy throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK; understands that, because of Brexit, the UK will be leaving EURATOM, which is an international body that is legally joined with the EU to regulate nuclear material; believes that the UK does not produce any of these isotopes and that two-thirds of the countries that it imports them from are EU member states; understands that transporting them can be difficult, as radioisotopes have a very short half-life and cannot be stored for long periods of time; believes that any delay can lead to a decrease in useable material and, subsequently, the cancellation of appointments; understands with concern that leaving EURATOM could result in shortages of medical isotopes, increases in cost, and more medical operations in place of radiotherapy; believes that this would have a negative affect for people in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland who rely on such treatment, and, in order to continue the necessary trade arrangements around the isotopes, notes the calls for the UK Government to come to an agreement that allows the country to remain a part of EURATOM.

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