Nuclear Medicine and Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

About access to nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear medicine services in Australia.

Page last updated: 01 April 2021


Intermittently, the Department publishes news updates concerning to access to radiopharmaceuticals and the availability of nuclear medicine imaging services. Advice about access to temporary nuclear medicine imaging items will also be published in this section.

Recent announcements relating to two distinct radiopharmaceutical supply shortages are below.

Supply shortage of technetium-99m

Supply shortage of thallium-201

Nuclear Medicine Imaging

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that involves the administration of a small amount of a radioactive medication (radioactive pharmaceutical, or radiopharmaceutical) into the patient. This makes the patient weakly radioactive for a short time and the images are made from the ionising radiation given off (emitted) from the patient. The radioactive medication is most commonly injected into the blood stream via a vein, but it may be also be administered by other methods.

While nuclear medicine is primarily used for imaging purposes, it can also be used to treat some diseases and conditions. When nuclear medicine is used for treatment purposes, the dose of the radiopharmaceuticals is usually higher, and is usually administered directly to the organ being treated.

Common nuclear medicine applications include the diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism (Grave's Disease), cardiac stress tests to analyse heart function, bone scans for orthopaedic injuries, lung scans for blood clots, and liver and gall bladder procedures to diagnose abnormal function or blockages and also cancer treatment.

In order for a nuclear medicine imaging service to be eligible under Medicare, the service must be performed by a specialist or consultant physician, or by a suitably qualified person acting on behalf of a specialist. The final report of the service must also be compiled by the specialist who performed the preliminary examination of the patient and administered the dosage of radiopharmaceuticals.

For further information please email the Diagnostic Imaging team.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a nuclear medicine technology that uses short-lived radioisotopes to enable the non-invasive imaging of metabolic functions within the body. While computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) primarily provide information about anatomical structure, PET can image and quantify biochemical and/or physiological function. This is important because functional changes caused by disease, such as cancer, are often detectable before any structural abnormalities become evident.

PET unit locations by Australian state and territory

A list of PET unit locations is available on the Department's website.

Claiming Medicare Benefits

The requirements for claiming Medicare benefits for PET scans are listed in the Diagnostic Imaging Services Table. See Category 5 of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). A PET service must be performed by an appropriately qualified person, in a comprehensive facility that can provide a full range of diagnostic imaging services and cancer treatment services and provided using equipment that meets certain requirements, and only following a referral from a recognised physician or specialist consultant.

Providers of PET services must complete a PET Provider Statutory Declaration prior to being eligible to claim Medicare rebates. Statutory declarations can be obtained directly from the Department of Human Services.

Additionally, as PET and nuclear medicine items are listed in the Diagnostic Imaging Services Table, all sites must be accredited under the government’s Diagnostic Imaging Accreditation Scheme prior to performing Medicare eligible PET scans.

Temporary Nuclear Medicine Items

In recent times, temporary substitute nuclear medicine imaging items have been made available during periods of national supply shortages of radiopharmaceuticals that have resulted in the unavailability of certain services. The temporary items help to ensure that patients have continued access to necessary nuclear medicine imaging scans by allowing providers to use different types of equipment and alternative radiopharmaceuticals.

The temporary substitute items were created following supply shortages of two different radiopharmaceuticals, as follows:

Supply shortage of technetium-99m

Eleven temporary substitute items were available for a period from 1 December 2020 until 28 February 2021 during a national supply disruption of technetium. This allowed limited supplies of technetium-99m to be re-directed to practices, particularly in regional and rural areas, which only provide services using technetium.

The temporary items ceased effect in early 2021 when it was advised that the supply of technetium had returned to normal levels and stabilised.

For more information on these temporary items, see the following:

Supply shortage of thallium-201

A temporary item has been introduced from 1 April 2022 until 30 September 2022 that uses PET to assist in cardiac viability testing. The temporary item provides an alternative service and an equivalent cardiac investigative function to the service that is unavailable due to Tl-201 supply shortages. The introduction of this item will reduce health risks to patients who would otherwise have delayed, or unnecessary, intervention due to service unavailability.

For more information on the temporary item, see the following:

Should there be further national shortages in the supply of the radiopharmaceuticals, these items may again be made available.