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Regional nuclear medicine specialists hopeful Federal Government can help rural clinics

A regional WA nuclear medicine specialist says he is confident the Albanese Government will fix issues facing nuclear medicine clinics in regional towns such as Geraldton, following meetings in Canberra last week.

A group of specialists with the Rural Alliance in Nuclear Scintigraphy spoke with the staff of Emma Mcbride, Assistant Minister for Rural Health, and Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic.

Director of WA-based TeleMed, Peter Tually, was part of the delegation of rural nuclear medicine experts.

TeleMed runs nuclear medicine centres across regional WA, including Geraldton, and cuts to Medicare under the previous government have prompted TeleMed to begin charging patients $90 for their appointments, according to Mr Tually, although they do not turn away patients who cannot afford it.

He said constructive conversations were held in Canberra and the future is looking brighter for regional nuclear medicine.

“This government, I felt, was really listening,” he said.

“There’s hope we can continue doing what we are doing.”

Nuclear medicine is used to diagnose and treat diseases such as heart disease, blood disorders, and many types of cancer.

“The diseases of ageing, cancer and heart disease and so on, are increasing in our population, so it’s a very important service to keep going,” Mr Tually said.

He said regional nuclear medicine centres across Australia have been under financial pressure following these changes to Medicare, and a number of centres had been forced to close.

The previous Liberal government removed exemptions that allowed rural clinics to use repurposed equipment with government funding, forcing them to buy new, expensive equipment.

Professor Geoff Currie, a nuclear medicine expert at Charles Sturt University, said Medicare’s current system favours nuclear medicine facilities in capital cities.

“Its a metro-centric model,” he said.

“The costs are based around delivering these services into the metropolitan area, which is substantially less than delivering them to a rural environment where you have substantially increased costs associated with transport and delivering the service itself.”

Another source of pressure comes from the increasing cost of radioactive medical isotopes, produced by the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation in Sydney, according to Mr Tually.

The Rural Alliance in Nuclear Scintigraphy said it hopes the government will implement short and long-term fixes for the nuclear medicine industry.

Short-term, they want to see direct funding to cover gaps in finances left by the Medicare changes, while long-term, they want the government to bring in rebates specifically for regional clinics to cover some specific costs, such as travel fares.

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