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Hospital paves the way in offering lifesaving heart test for newborns

By Lisa Smyth

Published 02/12/2015

Daisy Hill Hospital. Pic BBC
Daisy Hill Hospital. Pic BBC

Daisy Hill Hospital has become the first in Northern Ireland to offer a potentially lifesaving screening test to newborn babies.

The paediatric team have worked closely with their maternity colleagues to introduce a quick, simple and painless test for all babies born at the hospital, which could flag up if they have congenital heart disease (CHD).

It aims to pick up congenital heart defects that would not be found with the current routine tests, by measuring the saturation of oxygen in the blood.

Readings lower than 95% prompt clinicians to carry out further investigations.

Dr Bassam Aljarad, consultant paediatrician, who introduced the new screening programme, explained: "CHD is a general term for a range of birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart

"It is one of the most common types of birth defect, affecting up to nine in every 1,000 babies born in the UK.

"Nearly 50% of babies born with a CHD appear healthy at first without any noticeable symptoms and may be discharged, for their health to deteriorate months or sometimes a few years later.

"Only 32% with life threatening CHD can be diagnosed by clinical examination alone, while more than double this number can be diagnosed through this additional screening test."

Irwyn McKibbin, chairman of Heartbeat NI, which has funded the screening equipment, said he was delighted the paediatric team at Daisy Hill had shown the initiative to introduce the pilot study.

"Already undertaken by many hospitals across England and mandatory in many states across the USA, we at Heartbeat NI have been advocating this screening across Northern Ireland for a number of years," he said.

"This very simple and uninvasive test, which takes just a matter of minutes, can detect up to 76% of heart defects.

"This can have a crucial impact on the health and wellbeing of a child with a congenital heart condition, as well as relieving the stress of parents who in many cases can take what they believe to be a normal healthy child home from hospital, only to find at a later date a deterioration in their health and in the worst cases may require emergency surgery."

With around 1,850 births each year, the team at Daisy Hill expect to detect in the region of one to two cases of CHD on an annual basis.

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