An international team of experts is to assess the future of children’s heart surgery on an all-island basis.
Surgeons from Dublin will see young people during a six-month reprieve for patient care at Belfast’s specialist centre, while a team of American experts consider the future of services for those born with cardiac disease, said Stormont health minister Edwin Poots.
Belfast’s lead surgeon in the speciality, Prof Freddie Woods, is retiring, leaving just one paediatric surgeon at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Mr Poots said: “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.”
Many parents of affected children in the North oppose having to travel to Dublin or Britain for operations.
However, congenital heart conditions are rare, given the North’s smaller population. Doctors in Britain see 300-500 cases a year compared to 60 surgeries last year in Belfast, which can raise problems for doctors maintaining skills through regular work. Sharing resources and workload with Dublin would raise the number of potential patients and make a specialist service on the island sustainable.
Families in the North have expressed concern that this would lead to centralisation of treatment in Dublin, entailing additional travel.
Under interim plans agreed by Mr Poots and Health Minister James Reilly, medics in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin would work together. The US experts are to consider whether a two-centre service based in Dublin and Belfast is feasible in the long-term. Children will still have to travel to centres in London or Birmingham for some operations.
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