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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1647

Senator RICHARDSON —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. It concerns the recently announced decision by the Department of Health to purchase three nuclear magnetic resonance scanners which use computer-controlled radiation waves and magnetic fields. As these machines are still in the development stages, has the Australian Government considered sending a group of Australian scientists abroad to study the nuclear magnetic resonance imaging scanner? What advice has the Government received from the National Health Technology Advisory Panel regarding the efficiency and implementation of the program?

Senator GRIMES —The Minister for Health informs me that nuclear magnetic resonance imaging is regarded as a promising new diagnostic technology. It is no longer solely in the development phase and there is already some routine clinical use overseas at a number of centres, in addition to the research for which it has been used for some time. There is still some uncertainty as to the true costs and benefits of the technology in terms of the overall effect on patient care, as to the most effective and appropriate areas of clinical application, and as to the status of NMRI in comparison with the other diagnostic technologies which are already in use and which it may replace. Following a study by the National Health Technology Advisory Panel, an evaluation program was proposed to address these areas of uncertainty in terms of the Australian health care system. Members of the National Health Technology Advisory Panel who were formed into a technical committee to look at NMRI were in fact sent overseas as consultants earlier this year to report on the status of the technology in North America and Europe. Their findings were taken into account in the development of the details of the project. They were also assisted in their discussions of this matter by a senior British health administrator experienced in the examination of this technology. The view of the Panel, supported by the consultants, was that it would not be sufficient to draw on the limited experience in other countries to determine how the technology should be used and funded in Australia, and that an evaluation in this country was necessary.

It has been recommended that three scanners be installed in teaching hospitals in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, and that the technology be evaluated over a period of two years with particular regard to specific disease groups and the overall costs and benefits of this type of diagnosis. Data will be collected as part of the evaluation process, which will enable the Government to formulate appropriate policies as to the use of this expensive, high-cost technology in Australia. Because of the need to restrict Government expenditure and other priorities within the portfolio of the Minister for Health, it was not possible to provide support for the project in the recent Budget. Discussions with the States concerned are now in progress with a view to determining ways of providing the necessary support so that the evaluation can proceed on the lines recommended by the committee. Whilst funding was not provided in the 1984-85 Budget and there may be some delay in the Sydney project, it was always intended that the Brisbane and Perth projects would be set up in 1985-86. We are hopeful that these projects will proceed on schedule as planned.