Contrast dye shortage leaves patients in limbo

Many hospitals are reserving contrast dye for emergency situations amid a global shortage, leaving some patients waiting weeks or months for CT scans and other imaging procedures. 

"It's been very frustrating. I haven't been able to get a timeline of when I can get my CAT scan done," Stefanie Sorrento, a patient who's had trouble trying to schedule an appointment, told WHP,, a CBS affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa. "I would love to get some answers about what's going on with myself. … I'm assuming I'll be waiting at least three-four months at this point for any answers." 

The contrast dye is used in nearly 50 million tests to diagnose cancer and other diseases every year, according to Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the FDA. 

“Waiting is cruel, and if you got cancer and you want to find out if your cancer is growing or not and you have to wait for a test, that is frightening," he told WHP

York, Pa.-based WellSpan Health is conserving the contrast agent for emergency situations, delaying outpatient CT scans through July. Several Minnesota-based health systems, including Mayo Clinic, told KMSP, a Fox affiliate in Minneapolis, they are also leaning on conservation efforts to preserve supplies. 

The contrast dye shortage stems from COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai, China, where GE healthcare manufactures the ingredient. The company said it plans to resume normal production levels by the end of June. The American Hospital Association in May wrote a letter to GE Healthcare asking it to distribute what is available based on need and giving special consideration to designated stroke centers, major heart centers, oncology centers and hospitals with "very active emergency departments."  

Mr. Pitts compared the dye shortage to the baby formula shortage. 

"All of the contrast agents we use are manufactured in that facility," he told WHP. "It's exactly the same problem, you have one manufacturer making the lion's share of the same product." 

In a statement sent to KMSP, the Minnesota Hospital Association called for more resilient supply chains: 

"The latest critical shortage is another urgent reminder that we need to build strong and redundant supply chains when it comes to important medical supplies, such as pharmaceuticals, so that patients can get the care they need when they need it. MHA has reached out to both private and public sector stakeholders to ask for any assistance they can provide as we manage this situation in the weeks and months to come. "

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