Update on Radiopharmaceutical Supply
Wednesday April 22, 2020 11:00hrs
The Working Group held a Vcon yesterday afternoon with representatives from ANSTO, TGA, GMS and, through ANSTO’s governmental connections, a representative from the Transport and Freight Taskforce (TFT) of the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
Firstly, there is little change from last week in terms of generator supply and availability of other radiopharmaceuticals such as MIBG. The transport situation remains fluid with flights continuing to be reduced and ANSTO and GMS are trying to maintain supply lines in an ever-changing environment. The [123I]MIBG that is currently brought in on an ANA flight from Japan will continue until this flight stops operating, which is scheduled to be May 15th at present, but this is subject to change and may be extended.
A number of issues were raised with the TFT representative from government. This task force has been established to try and maintain vital supplies at this time when normal passenger flights are almost all grounded. In addition, the government has created an emergency role of Coordinator-General for Freight Shipment. The TFT representative reported that Australia has reduced the number of domestic flights from 4400 per week to just over 200 at present, and is continuing to reduce. Further, 86% of all airfreight (including medical radioisotopes) is carried on passenger planes. The Federal Government has recently provided $160m to establish a skeleton domestic flight service until the end of June, with an additional $52.8m being made available from the Federal Department of Health for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other health flight operators such as Careflight.
The first issue discussed with the TFT representative was that of maintaining supply of radiopharmaceuticals to regional, rural and remote parts of the country. AANMS, ANZSNM and RAINS will work collaboratively to see what flights on the skeleton service timetable can be utilised to move radiopharmaceuticals to where they are needed. TFT are committed to maintaining supply of medical consumables and will act through appropriate channels to ensure that the supplies that we need are able to be distributed. There are alternatives to passenger flights as well, such as light plane services and, potentially, the RAAF. We should have the timetable available within the next 7 days such that we can start to map out, with some certainty, delivery schedules to the areas currently experiencing restrictions. Staff movement between centres can also be incorporated into this, especially for FIFO workers in remote Australia.
The second issue raised with the TFT representative was that of medical radioisotopes being offloaded by ground crew and flight crews (pilots) without justification. Members of the group have been aware for many years that the transport of radioactive materials has been subject to the whim of individuals within the airlines, and various myths have arisen about reasons for offloading a delivery. The Working Group has been in consultation with the airlines, CASA and ARPANSA about this and have confirmed that no such justification for offloading exists. One of the issues is that our shipments are often heavy but small in volume, and can lead to leaving “empty space” in the cargo hold when the maximum cargo weight that can be carried has been reached, and so the airline operators try to fill the space by offloading the radioactive transport container and replacing it with other freight to maximise revenue and transport efficiency. If anyone is aware of a delivery being offloaded (past, present or future), leading to disruption of imaging and therapy schedules, please let one of us on the Working Group know (Flight No., date, time, product affected, no. of patients affected, etc). The TFT will assist in declaring medical radioisotope deliveries essential to ensure that they are carried on the flights intended.
The Working Group will continue to meet with ANSTO on a weekly basis and provide updates, or more frequently if the situation changes. The Working Group are grateful to ANSTO for establishing the appropriate connections in government to deal with the transport issues at present.
AANMS ANZSNM RAINS