NI Child Post-Mortems To Be Carried Out In England

Postmortems on babies and children will no longer be available in Northern Ireland in the New Year due to a shortage in specialist staff.

The Belfast Trust has been unsuccessful in it's efforts to fill a consultant paediatric pathologist post ahead of the vacancy, as the only remaining consultant leaves his role in February 2019.

Three paediatric pathologists will have either retired or resigned since 2016.

The service is currently provided on a regional basis by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which has "regrettably" confirmed that postmortems for infants and babies who die later in pregnancy will be carried out at the Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said the move was necessary following an unsuccessful international recruitment drive for a replacement.

Heather Reid, Public Health Specialist, speaking on behalf of the HSCB and Public Health Agency said: "We recognise that the loss of a child is one of the most devastating events that can ever happen to a family and fully accept that the prospect of the postmortem being performed outside Northern Ireland may compound the distress experienced by families.

"While we will have to adapt our service, we want to assure parents that they will continue to have the choice of whether or not to go ahead with a hospital postmortem.
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"We also believe there are opportunities to provide postmortem findings more quickly and enhance the support and information families receive."

SDLP Health Spokesperson Mark Durkan MLA said the move is unacceptable and has written to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health regarding the issue.

"This situation cannot be described as unforeseen as pressures on this service have been highlighted before and there are serious questions to be answered as to how the Department and Board have allowed things to get to this point," the Foyle MLA said.

"There is nothing in life as painful as the loss of a child and the loss of this service here means that deceased children and babies will need to be transported to England if parents or the coroner need answers on the cause of death.

"Postmortems provide vital information - particularly for families with other children whose health could potentially be at risk to an underlying genetic condition. This knowledge is also invaluable to healthcare professionals."

Mr Durkan continued that the need for families to send their child away to get answers, which could take a week, will only serve to increase the stress and suffering they experience in their "darkest hour".

"It may well lead to parents opting out of the process altogether," he added.

The SDLP MLA said he is seeking clarification on the "completely unacceptable situation" and the solutions that have been explored.

"If this service is lost now, will it ever be restored? Is there the possibility of an all-island solution?"


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