Northern Ireland news

Extra funding for Dublin hospital to operate on Northern Ireland children suffering from heart defects

A cross-border scheme for children with congenital heart disease has been given extra money to create four new ICU hospital beds
Seanín Graham

A DUBLIN-BASED heart surgery centre for seriously ill children from Northern Ireland has been given extra funding to invest in a four-bed extension to its intensive care unit.

Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin will receive the money as part of a cross-border scheme which was developed after Belfast lost it's regional unit for children with congenital heart disease in 2015, as it was no longer sustainable.

It remains unclear what impact Brexit will have on the all-Ireland project in the event of a hard border being imposed.

The Republic's health minister Simon Harris yesterday confirmed that he and his northern counterparts had agreed "significant and shared funding" for Crumlin's paediatric ICU.

Babies and children born with serious heart defects in the north have been forced to travel to

England for operations following the closure of the northern service, which was based at the Royal Belfast hospital for Sick Children in Belfast.

An expert review carried out six years ago concluded that the Royal's service was not carrying out enough operations - around 90 were being performed each year - to meet international heart surgery standards.

Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the Department of Health in the north, said the extra beds mean that the majority of heart surgery will be provided in Dublin within two years, "ending the current necessity for families to travel to specialist heart centres in England".

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on cross-border healthcare - including radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients based in Donegal travelling to Altnagelvin in Derry - has been repeatedly raised by the British Medical Association, the main doctors' trade union in the north.

Mr Harris made the announcement on cardiac funding at an event in Dublin yesterday where he spoke of the importance of shared healthcare schemes on the island.

"Cross-border cooperation on health is one of the successes of the Good Friday Agreement, and today's event is a wonderful way to highlight a great cross-border initiative and the services it provides," he said.

"This Network ensures that a very vulnerable group of sick children and young people get the best level of care. It clearly demonstrates the potential of North-South collaboration on healthcare to bring tangible benefits and outcomes for patients across both jurisdictions."

Children from the north have been attending the Dublin unit as part of a "phased" approach since 2015, with 30 emergency and urgent cases seen each year.

Almost 100 catheterisation procedures have been carried out annually while up to 30 young patients will travel south for planned operations.

Former Sinn Féin health minister Michelle O'Neill and Mr Harris greenlighted a 57 million euro investment in the all-island Congenital Heart Disease Service in July, 2016.

The project is the first cross-jurisdictional clinical network of its kind in the world.

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