All-Ireland review of cardiac surgery

Published Monday, 09 December 2013
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Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced that an international team of clinicians will carry out a review of children's heart services on an all-island basis.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, the minister said surgery is to continue in Belfast during the six-month assessment, with surgeons from Dublin supporting services.

Northern Ireland's lead surgeon in the field, Professor Freddie Woods retired on Monday from his post at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. With his departure, all childen's cardiac services were due to stop.

Local families raised concerns about having to travel to the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain to receive care for children with cardiac illness.

Mr Poots said: "My key priority throughout this process has been, and remains, to ensure the delivery of a safe and sustainable service for these vulnerable children."

Parents in the public gallery at Stormont applauded as the DUP minister finished his speech.

This network offers the prospect of a single service providing surgery in Belfast and Dublin

Edwin Poots MLA

Congenital heart conditions are rare, particularly given Northern Ireland's much smaller population, with around 60 surgeries taking place in Belfast last year.

It is hoped that sharing the workload will make services more sustainable.

Mr Poots said he has commissioned the international review alongside his counterpart in the south, Irish Health Minister James Reilly.

"Having considered all of the advice that has been put to me, it is my view that the only prospect for retaining children's heart surgery in Belfast on a long-term basis is to forge a children's heart services integrated network arrangement between the Belfast Trust and the Dublin children's heart centre," he went on to tell MLAs.

"I can't guarantee that such a model would necessarily provide a solution into the longer-term, but it is only right that I am guided by the best possible expert professional advice in considering this. Such decisions matter too much to get wrong."

Minister Reilly said: "This review is intended to lead to the establishment of an integrated service for cardiology and congenital cardiac surgery for all the children of this island, based on international best practice."

Dr John Mayer, a consultant cardiac surgeon at Boston Children's Hospital, will chair the review panel and will be joined Dr Adrian Moran, a consultant cardiologist in Portland, Maine, and an anaesthetics expert who will be appointed before work starts in January.

In the interim, medics in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin are to work together to provide a top quality but more convenient service for families living in Northern Ireland.

I am very pleased that such an eminent group of clinicians have agreed to dedicate so much of their time over the next few months to help us achieve this goal of an effective integrated service which will be so important to the children of this island and their families.

James Reilly TD

Sarah Quinlan, of Children's Heartbeat Trust, said: "It is an emotional day for parents and families.

"We have been campaigning for this for the last 18 months and everything has been about surgery being removed from Belfast and it is just so heartening today to hear the minister come up and talk about plans to potentially look at the service in Belfast, keep surgery here and work out how that can happen.

"So for the parents and families of these very sick children it's a relief," she said.

One of the families who rely on the service told UTV that their daughter would have died without it.

Jim and Amanda O'Neill said that this latest review makes them feel like they're finally being listened to.

Three-year old Katie had surgery last Thursday to fit a diagnostic catheter - with a view to another open heart surgery in four months time.

Katie only has one pumping chamber in her heart, which her mother said is not a condition that can be fixed.

Amanda explained: "Her condition was picked up in the womb at 20 weeks and from that point, we got an appointment within about three days with one of the consultants from Clark Clinic.

"And from that stage on, we were in once a week and their liaison nurses were in touch with us once a week explaining what was happening at this stage and telling us in detail what every scan was looking. "

Discussing the minister's announcement, her husband said: "What we see today is very encouraging - the minister has decided not to listen to the managers, the bean counters and the accountants and listen to the parents and clinicians who have first hand knowledge."

© UTV News
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7 Comments
John in Dublin wrote (131 days ago):
The way it should be. Work together for all residents on this island we share.
Keep it going in North Belfast wrote (131 days ago):
Sense at last!! Politicians doing something right... Well done.
Michael Monaghan in Belfast wrote (131 days ago):
A perfect example of north south cooperation - need to see much more of this, as the island working together works for all ..
C Boyd in Belfast wrote (131 days ago):
Great news please God it will remain in Belfast
greg in lurgan wrote (131 days ago):
children to bring about all ireland
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