Hundreds of NI children with heart disease benefiting from cross-border care network
The Congenital Heart Disease Network is on its way to delivering "world class" health care for children with the condition on the island of Ireland, its chairman has said.
Experts in paediatric care met at Titanic Belfast yesterday for the organisation's fourth annual conference.
The network emerged following a commitment from the Stormont Executive and the Republic's government in 2015 to create a "world-class patient and family-centric CHD service for the island of Ireland".
The rationale behind the network was to improve services to and outcomes for seriously ill patients with congenital heart disease.
Over 60% of all children in Northern Ireland who require cardiac surgery have had surgery on the island of Ireland through the network.
Dr Len O'Hagan, chair of CHD Network, said that it had been driving the implementation of evidence-based safe and effective cardiac care for children across the island of Ireland.
"The journey in the development of the network is structured in stepping stones to a world class service based on building capacity, capability and structures to support a robust service delivery model," he explained.
Dr O'Hagan added that the cultural, political and legal challenges in creating an all-island network had proved daunting but that members had addressed these with "determination and vigour".
Since the network was established in 2015, more than 420 children and young people from Northern Ireland have received treatment at Children's Health Ireland (CHI) at Crumlin hospital in Dublin - the largest paediatric hospital on the island of Ireland.
Dr O'Hagan said that CHI Crumlin has also committed to accept more complex patients currently referred to Birmingham Children's Hospital three years ahead of schedule.
"This is a welcome and significant step and, with the exception of transplant, will lead to no child requiring cardiac surgery having to leave the island," he added. "We are profoundly grateful to the ambitious staff in CHI Crumlin and to the Coombe Maternity Hospital."
A Hybrid Cath lab at Crumlin, along with the recruitment of an electrophysiology consultant, has helped reduce waiting list times.
Dr O'Hagan said: "We are rolling out the appointments across the island of paediatricians with a special interest in cardiology with the first already in place in Cork University Hospital - to be followed by Craigavon, Altnagelvin, Limerick and Galway."
This year the Children's Heart Centre at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was opened and members of the cardiac nursing team participated in the Cardiac Nursing Foundation Programme in Dublin.
"One of the programme's benefits is developing relationships to ensure continuity of care between jurisdictions is maintained and a network ethos is developed," Dr O'Hagan said.
The network will shortly begin a competition to select two research professors to provide "leadership and vision" to the CHD Network.
"Our work is close to the end of the first phase, our challenge now is to develop our second business plan to bring us closer to delivering our vision of a world class all-island service," Dr O'Hagan added.
"We need to deliver that plan to the two governments in early 2020 for approval."