Belfast Telegraph

Children's heart surgery: All-Ireland cardiac service one step closer as review team appointed, Edwin Poots has announced

By John Mulgrew

A top international review team has been appointed to examine an all-Ireland children's heart service, Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced.

The plans were unveiled by Mr Poots today in the Assembly, following a UK wide review of paediatric heart surgery in 2012.

The assessment - which is due to begin in January - will  "recommend the optimal all-island hospital service for cardiology and cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland".

The panel includes two US doctors - John Mayer and Adrian Moran - as well as an anaesthetics expert who will be appointed before work begins.

Fears over the future of paediatric heart surgery services in Belfast escalated after the 2012 review.

About 90 heart surgery operations are carried out each year by the Belfast Health Trust with a further 40 taking place in either England or Dublin.

A public consultation on the future of the service was launched in September 2012.  A campaign was also launched by the Children's Heartbeat Trust charity to keep child heart services open at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

It wants an all-Ireland network to help ensure the viability of undertaking specialised surgery locally.

The three-man panel will examine several areas, including the "current and projected need" for heart services in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

Speaking today, Mr Poots said the external team would "will bring international best practice and fresh thinking to bear on this challenging issue".

"I am pleased that they have accepted this assignment and look forward to receiving their advice. I want to thank health service management and clinicians in the Republic of Ireland for engaging with their colleagues in Belfast to provide and develop support to the services in Northern Ireland.

"My key priority throughout this process has been, and remains, to ensure the delivery of a safe and sustainable service for these vulnerable children."

The review - which was also jointly announced by the Republic's Health Minister James Reilly - is expected to take around six months.

Under interim plans agreed by Mr Poots and Minister James Reilly, medics in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin would work together to provide a top quality but more convenient service for families living in Northern Ireland.

The US experts are to consider whether a two-centre service based in Dublin and Belfast is feasible in the long-term.

For some operations children will still need to travel to Great Britain centres like Birmingham.

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