£42m deal done for all-Ireland children's cardiac service
Northern Ireland children with congenital heart disease (CHD) will soon be able to have their surgery closer to home after the Health Ministers on both sides of the border announced a £42m funding package for an all-Ireland service.
Currently the children undergo elective surgery in Birmingham or London after paediatric cardiac surgery in Belfast was halted.
The new funding will enable the phased transfer of all urgent surgical cases in Northern Ireland to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin by the end of next year, and all elective surgical cases by the end of 2018.
In the meantime the hospital will carry out emergency operations on children from here. The package includes £1m capital funding for new facilities in Belfast.
The creation of an all-Ireland CHD network was recommended by a working party and it is being hailed as a potentially world-class service which will also have cardiology hubs in Londonderry, Craigavon, Limerick and Cork, as well as specialist services in Belfast and Dublin.
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "The joint investment over the next five years will help realise our vision of a world-class network service.
"I recognise that many families would like to see these services delivered sooner and every effort is being made to deliver this.
"The investment announced today combined with the detailed planning by the network board over the last year will help to achieve this, ensuring that these children will soon be able to have their surgery within a reasonable travelling distance from their homes, and with their pre- and post-operative care being delivered in Belfast."
Her counterpart in the Republic Simon Harris said: "This unique collaboration is the first formally established all-island network for clinical care and I look forward to working with Minister O'Neill and her department to identify further opportunities for collaboration into the future so that patients - children and adults alike - can benefit from safe, high quality services with equally high quality outcomes."
Both ministers paid tribute to Dr Len O'Hagan and his colleagues on the all-island CHD network board who produced the vision statement, business case and implementation plan to support the case for investment, and also praised the patient representative bodies for their work in supporting the families of children with CHD.
The funding announcement came as the ministers opened the new hybrid cardiac catheterisation laboratory at Our Lady's Children's Hospital.
That is where children with CHD have procedures, such as the insertion of stents in cardiac arteries, performed.