03/03/2015

Children's Heart Surgery In NI Ends

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Jim Wells has confirmed he has formally accepted proposals for a single, all-Ireland children's heart surgery centre to be based in Dublin.

The decision by Minister Wells means the current service at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) is to stop. The service had previously been described as "unsustainable" as too few operations were being performed at RVH to meet international heart surgery standards.

The Minister first revealed his support for the proposals last year, and following a public consultation on the issue, has now published a cross-border document establishing the guidelines for the new service. It sets out the framework for the establishment of a single, congenital heart disease network across Ireland, as recommended by the International Working Group (IWG) on Congenital Cardiac Services.

The all-island Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Network Board will work to implement the IWG's recommendations and will concentrate initially on services for paediatric and young adult patients, progressing to adults with Congenital Heart Disease. The Board will also be responsible for the day-to-day operational and clinical management and delivery of the service.

The new clinical network will be established from 1 April 2015. It will be chaired by Dr Leonard O'Hagan, CEO of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

A phased implementation of the network is expected to take 15 to 18 months.

The framework has been agreed by Mr Wells and Ireland's Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday, Minister Wells said: "While I fully understand the concerns expressed about the ending of surgery in Belfast we really had to accept this given the overwhelming clinical evidence that we simply do not have sufficient numbers of patients to meet the very rigorous international standards required for the treatment of this condition.

"The model proposed by the IWG means that these children will have their surgery in Dublin within a reasonable travelling distance from their homes with their pre and post operative care being delivered in Belfast."

Minister Varadkar added: "The Network for Congenital Heart Disease will ensure that a very vulnerable group of sick children and young people get the best level of care, no matter where they come from on the island.

"It will bring together everyone working in this area to ensure that we can provide the best level of care, wherever they come from.

"It makes so much sense to develop healthcare through North-South co-operation. We should never allow politics or jurisdictional issues get in the way of what is best for patients and their families."

(JP)

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