Mobile lung scans, medical imaging unit hits the road

The HEART5 going to scan for Mine Dust Lung Disease (MDLD) PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Euan Morrisson

Heart of Australia launched its newest mobile medical imaging clinic, the HEART5 in February 2022.

It will provide increased accessibility to lung checks for current and former mine and quarry workers in rural and remote Queensland.

The B-double will go to where the miners live and work to scan for Mine Dust Lung diseases (MDLD) like Black lung and silicosis.

Heart of Australia founder Dr Rolf Gomes said he was thrilled to be working in partnership with the Queensland Government and Resources Safety and Health Queensland, which contributed $2 million towards the build and operation of HEART 5.

“The battery technology we have designed and built in Queensland to power the CT scanner means with HEART 5 we can do a CT parked on a mine site, and that is a world first,” Dr Gomes said.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart farewelled the state-of-the-art Queensland-built HEART 5 vehicle from Brisbane.

“This means workers won’t have to travel as far to access highly specialised services, ensuring earlier detection and intervention in cases of mine dust lung diseases like black lung and silicosis,” Mr Stewart said.

Black lung, also known as Coal workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), was thought to have been eradicated in Queensland until it was detected in 2015-2016.

The Queensland State Government held a select committee to investigate the matter and came up with a list of 68 recommended solutions in a report named ‘Black lung white lies’.

The report states:

“The committee found there had been a catastrophic failure, at almost every level, of the regulatory system intended to protect the health and safety of coal workers in Queensland.”

“As a result of that failure, 21 Queensland coal miners have now been diagnosed with CWP – an insidious but entirely preventable disease. Many more coal miners are likely to be diagnosed with this latent onset disease in future. Significant reform of the regulatory framework for coal mining in Queensland is urgently needed.”

According to the Queensland Government on Business Queensland, there have been 217 cases of mine dust lung disease (MDLD) since the financial year 2017. This includes 23 cases of CWP and 41 cases of silicosis.

Ewan Wylie is the Head of Operations and Business Development for Heart of Australia.

If a mine dust lung disease is detected by the HEART5 team, it is mandatory that the disease is reported -mandatory reporting can include Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ), the Queensland Health notifiable dust lung disease register, and the worker’s employer.

“Importantly, Heart of Australia will communicate with the affected individual and their treating GP to ensure appropriate ongoing treatment and care is provided. Affected individuals will be linked with support services to guide them through compensation and care decisions,” Mr Wylie said.

Stephen Smyth, the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division, Queensland district president, said it was important to make sure current and former miners get the opportunity to use the service.

“The union was one of the main advocates for this type of mobile unit to ensure its members, their families and the mining community’s get the first-class screening capabilities they deserve. The union’s focus is that the miners both past and present get first use of this service,” Mr Smyth said.

“We will continue to both monitor and engage the government on this. We will not accept it being diverted to undertake other assessments or use in the coal sector which is directly linked to coal companies.”