Medical radioisotope supply debated in Parliament
THE future supply of medical radioisotopes in the UK has been debated in the House of Commons – with IPEM members providing information and insights in order to raise the profile of this crucial issue.
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and the party’s Westminster Leader, raised the issue to highlight the concerns about the security of the supply of medical radioisotopes in the UK.
She also made the case for a national medical isotope centre in north Wales to provide a reliable supply of medical radioisotopes for the UK into the future as the strength of the UK supply has been called into question for a variety of reasons, including the UK’s departure from the EU, the war in Ukraine and the decommissioning of reactors in Europe.
IPEM worked with the MP to provide much of the information for the debate. She highlighted the fact that around 700,000 medical procedures using radioisotopes are carried out annually in the UK and diagnostic procedures using radioisotopes are now routine, identifying cancers and illnesses earlier to improve outcomes for patients.
She said: ‘Despite the clear importance of medical isotopes, both as a pillar of cancer care and as a diagnostic tool, this branch of medicine is being neglected.
‘With the World Nuclear Association forecasting the use of radioisotopes increasing by up to 5% annually and the Royal College of Radiologists expecting the use of molecular radiotherapy to increase dramatically over the next decade, there are concerns that most nations and regions throughout the UK are neither prepared nor preparing for this increase in demand.
‘It is for this reason that a review of molecular radiotherapy services in the UK, undertaken by the Royal College of Radiologists, the Royal College of Physicians, the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine and the British Nuclear Medicine Society, recommended that each devolved Government and each of the radiotherapy operational delivery networks in England should appoint a molecular radiotherapy champion. The champion’s role would be to identify where there were gaps in the provision and what further support would be needed to deliver treatment effectively.’
She said while the UK Government had announced a £6m medical radionuclide innovation programme in December, she wanted clarity on which department and Minister would lead on this.
She added: ‘The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine has expressed its concern regarding the fragility of this supply chain, with post-Brexit customs backlogs, although fortunately quickly resolved, serving to highlight just how dependent on imports we are. I would like to put on record my thanks to the IPEM for its work in drawing attention to this important matter.
‘The reality is that, without decisive action, the UK is facing a likely catastrophic breakdown in the supply chain for medical radioisotopes, which could have a severe knock-on effect on diagnostics and therapy, and therefore on patients’ lives, in the UK.'
Ms Saville Roberts also highlighted the skills gap and workforce shortages and called for new courses to be developed and supported to train the next generation of nuclear medicine physicians, oncologists and Clinical Scientists.
Amanda Solloway MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, responded on behalf of the Government.
She said the Government recognised the need to strengthen secure access to radionuclides, adding as the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero was the lead department for nuclear innovation, it was playing a central role in this.
Her department’s launch in December of the £6m medical radionuclide innovation programme would focus on encouraging innovation in technologies and techniques to support access to radionuclides and increase the UK’s national resilience against global shortages.
She said the potential for a national medical isotope centre in north Wales was one of the technology options which could be supported by the innovation programme.
Ms Solloway said there was a need to build an evidence base to provide clarity on the best means of supporting supply resilience of radionuclides in the future.
She added: ‘Our programme aims to determine the technologies needed to deliver the radionuclides required for nuclear medicine services across the United Kingdom. As well as supporting the development of new targeted therapies, the programme will therefore consider the suitability of a national research reactor as one of the technology options once we have concluded our assessment of the radionuclide landscape.
‘While the delivery of healthcare and the supply of medicines are devolved matters, it remains important that the four nations can come together and support one another where possible.
‘My department will progress the medical radionuclide innovation programme, and our decisions will be driven by the evidence as it is gathered over the coming months. We remain open-minded to the conclusions of the programme, and the role the Government might have in medical radionuclides supply in the future.'
Dr Robert Farley, IPEM’s President, said: 'This is a very important issue for the future of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics and I am delighted a debate in the House of Commons was held on this vital issue.
‘It is gratifying to see that IPEM has also been recognised for taking such a strong lead on this. I feel encouraged by the comments made and look forward to seeing how this hugely important issue develops in the coming months.’
You can read the full debate in Hansard below or watch on Parliamentlive TV, starting at 15.38.25.