‘Best in world’ paediatric unit opens at Cork University Hospital

A €5m integrated paediatric academic unit, the first of its kind in Ireland, was officially opened yesterday at Cork University Maternity Hospital and will seek to produce world-best healthcare for children, guests at the unveiling heard.

The unit will combine education, research, and practice to tackle clinical problems such as newborn brain injury, infant seizures, allergy, eczema, and sleep issues while seeking to enhance the long-term wellbeing and development of children.

The 1,400msq facility boasts 32 rooms, including state-of-the-art assessment rooms for clinical studies, seminar rooms, clinical skills rooms, tutorial rooms, offices, and laboratory spaces. It will host both paediatric academic training and the paediatric clinical research arm of the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded Infant perinatal research centre.

President of UCC, Prof Patrick O’Shea, told guests at the opening that the best universities are the ones that partner with the best hospitals: “In academia, we sometimes say there’s no difference between academia and the real world, but in the real world, there is. And, in theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. That’s why the combination of education, research, and practice is absolutely critical for excellence.

The co-location of education, clinical research, and patient care for paediatrics is a first in Ireland, and it’s not just going to be the best in Ireland, it’s going to be the best in the world.

"We may act locally, but we think globally and in everything we do, we want to be the best in every way. Developing this, not just for the good of the hospital or the good of UCC but for the good of people is really important,” he said.

Infant director, Prof Geraldine Boylan, said the new unit is unique: “It’s an integrated unit that also provides much-needed infrastructure for the Infant research centre. Teaching, research, and clinical care have to co-exist if we’re going to make any improvement in performance and better outcomes for patients.”

Prof Boylan said Infant has more than 100 staff and deals with unexpected events and vulnerable patients: “Infant is a research centre that is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week — we have to be. Since our establishment, we have grown exponentially, and as a result this new infrastructure was urgently needed. We had to expand our footprint.

Opening the unit, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said too often the focus is on the challenges facing the health system instead of its successes, and that such centres will avoid a ‘magnet effect’ that would pull children with healthcare needs to the capital: “In the future, when we have a fantastic new, shiny, national children’s hospital completed, all roads should not lead to Dublin.

“We need to provide high-quality infant care and children’s healthcare in other centres as well. We need to be caring for children here in Cork and in other Irish cities in a way that ensures that we can keep, I hope, as many of our children out of the National Children’s Hospital as we possibly can.”

Funding for the unit comes from a multimillion-euro investment by UCC, SFI, and a significant philanthropic donation.

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