Doctors and community leaders launching the PET scanner campaign supported by The Northern Star, pictured from left: Steve Cansdell, Marshall Fittler, John Mulholland, Don Page,  Sue Short, Janelle Saffin, Chris Crawford, and Merv King.
Doctors and community leaders launching the PET scanner campaign supported by The Northern Star, pictured from left: Steve Cansdell, Marshall Fittler, John Mulholland, Don Page, Sue Short, Janelle Saffin, Chris Crawford, and Merv King. David Nielsen

A new PET for Northern Rivers

A GROUP of 'positive thinkers' yesterday set the wheels in motion to lobby the State and Federal governments for a PET (positron emission tomography) scanner for the North Coast.

More than 30 local GPs, health specialists and community representatives launched the PET scanner campaign, being run by the Northern Rivers Health Care Group, a combination of local groups and organisations spearheaded by Regional Community Watch and supported by The Northern Star.

Costing as much as $4 million, the machine would help doctors diagnose cancers earlier, and help assess brain and heart-related diseases.

There are only 16 PET scanners in Australia, with the closest being in Sydney and Brisbane.

At the campaign launch at The Star's Goonellabah headquarters yesterday, radiologist Dr John Mullholland said the PET scanner was "an essential piece in the jigsaw" for an evolving, comprehensive health service.

The machine, preferably a more advanced PET/CT hybrid, would be used by patients from as far as Armidale and the Gold Coast, he said.

And while expensive to buy, run and maintain - maintenance costs about $2 million a year and each scan costs more than $1000 - Dr Mullholland said the benefits would be huge.

"It would enhance this district dramatically," he said.

Dr Mullholland said the scanner would help with treatment and diagnosis, reduce travel times for patients, attract specialists, and open up opportunities for research.

It would also boost the local economy as patients from outside the region would stay while scans were taken.

About 3000 new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed on the North Coast this year, with about 1000 deaths as a result of cancer.

North Coast Area Health Service chief planner Vahid Saberi said cancer survival rates would increase dramatically with early detection, which a PET/CT scanner would achieve.

Lismore Base Hospital medical staff council spokesman Dr Chris Ingall said it was a logical step.

"What we need now is to help politicians understand this isn't just a small group of people - it's a whole community wanting to go forward," he said.

A working committee will develop a proposal and business plan to lobby State and Federal politicians to secure the PET/CT scanner for Lismore, possibly as part of the new cancer care unit, which is expected to be completed by 2010.


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