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Children's heart surgery facility: Why a review team recommended the drastic changes

By Lisa Smyth

In March Health Minister Edwin Poots announced an external review of children’s cardiac services in Northern Ireland.

During 2011/12, 90 surgical procedures were carried out in Belfast — but concerns have been raised that this is not enough to allow heart surgeons here to maintain their expertise, rendering the service unsustainable in future.

The review was commissioned by the Health & Social Care Board, in conjunction with the Public Health Agency, and was undertaken by a review panel which included a number of clinical specialists and a parent group representative.

As part of the review, services were assessed against the Safe and Sustainable review of children’s cardiac units in England.

It provides advice on the best way to secure high quality care for all children needing specialist cardiac care in future.

The review panel visited Belfast for two days — April 23 and 24 — during which time members met with clinicians, trust managers and patient representatives. It concluded that children born here with heart disease are well served by a dedicated and experienced team of consultant paediatric cardiologists and nurses.

The review highlighted many excellent features in the current service and said they present opportunities for the development in the future of a model children’s cardiology centre.

The review panel did not identify any immediate safety concerns with current arrangements but did conclude the current surgical element is not sustainable.

It recommended that the potential safety risks be addressed within six months and this would require a stop to interventional cardiac services for children within the same period.

Among suggested changes to the service by the review was the removal of all cardiac surgery from Belfast to a centre in England, as concerns were raised over the ability of the centre in Dublin to meet additional demand.

As a result of the findings a public consultation has been launched looking at various options for the future of services.

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