U.K. prepares to make push into PET/CT

November 7, 2005

The U.K. government has pledged to put an extra £20 million ($35 million) into setup costs for a raft of new PET/CT facilities across England. The money is intended to even out the country’s patchy provision of PET access and meet an anticipated rapid rise in demand for PET scans.

The U.K. government has pledged to put an extra £20 million ($35 million) into setup costs for a raft of new PET/CT facilities across England. The money is intended to even out the country's patchy provision of PET access and meet an anticipated rapid rise in demand for PET scans.

England has lagged behind other European countries in clinical PET investment. Research published last year showed the U.K. had one clinical PET scanner for every 8.6 million inhabitants. This compared poorly with countries such as Belgium, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Denmark where the same calculation produced a far lower figure: one scanner for every 0.5 to 1.4 million people.

The U.K. Department of Health's own assessment in August revealed that PET provision in England was not only scanty but heavily concentrated in one region. Patients treated under the publicly funded health service in England may be referred to one of nine fixed-location scanners (eight PET/CT, one PET) or one permanently docked mobile PET/CT unit. Only three of these scanners are sited outside the southeast corner of the country. To make matters worse, one PET/CT facility in the north of England accepts clinical work only two days a week.

Patients willing to pay for their scans can visit one of three private PET/CT scanners, which again are all based in the southeast. They may alternatively try to hook up with one of three privately managed mobile scanners (two PET/CT, one PET) that travel throughout the U.K.

In a bid to cut patient waiting times, the Department of Health has been contracting with private PET providers to provide scanning services in the public sector. This new injection of cash, however, should mean that the state-run healthcare system can finance more facilities of its own.

"There is growing clinical evidence of the benefits of PET/CT scanning for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with certain types of cancer and neurologic and heart conditions," said a spokesperson for the Department of Health. "We are taking measures to improve access to PET/CT scanning services across England."

Approximately 10,500 publicly funded PET scans are carried out in England each year. Department of Health officials expect the annual demand for PET to reach 40,000 by 2008. They acknowledge that this figure could rise even further subject to publication of research confirming the technology's clinical benefits.

The government funds are to be made available over two years, beginning in 2006. The monies have been designated explicitly for capital investment rather than daily running costs. Unlike the funding for IT services, however, individual public healthcare Trusts will have autonomy to decide exactly what they will purchase and from whom.

The main precondition is that Trusts must buy a PET/CT scanner and not a stand-alone PET system. This reflects a continuing shift toward hybridized functional and anatomical imaging.

Officials estimate the capital cost of installing a PET/CT scanner, including associated building work, to be £2 to £2.6 million ($3.5 million to $4.6 million). Trusts are also being advised to consider establishing cyclotron services when designing their new PET/CT facilities to ensure ready availability of short-lived PET tracers. Construction of each cyclotron would add another £3 to £3.5 million ($5.2 million to $6.2 million) to construction.