Today, Mr Harris officially opened the third Annual Conference of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network and announced the approval of a four-bed extension to the paediatric intensive care unit in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin to support the development of the network which provides cardiac care to children with congenital heart disease.
Minister Harris said: "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.
“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.
“This morning, I am delighted to be able to announce that a further milestone in the development of the network has been achieved. Both Departments of Health have now formally approved the construction of the four-bed extension to the paediatric intensive care unit in Crumlin. This extension will allow for the expansion and enhancement of the services offered by the Network, benefitting more children and young people on the island of Ireland”.
Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Health Department in Northern Ireland, welcomed the proposed expansion of the paediatric intensive care unit in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin and commented: “this development means that the majority of heart surgery for children from Northern Ireland will be provided in Dublin within 2 years ending the current necessity for families to travel to specialist heart centres in England”.
In December 2013, an Expert International Working Group (IWG) was established by former Health Ministers James Reilly and Edwin Poots to carry out an independent assessment of current and future needs for cardiology and cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The members of the IWG published their report in October 2014. The primary recommendation of the report was to cease the provision of paediatric cardiac surgery and paediatric interventional cardiology services in Belfast and transfer surgical care of all paediatric patients to Our Ladies Children’s Hospital Crumlin (OLCHC). The report also recommended that the Belfast programme should refocus on elective, lower complexity adult congenital cardiac surgical and interventional catheterisation procedures and on surgical situations resulting from adult congenital cardiology interventional procedures.
The Congenital Heart Disease Network Board was established by the then Minister for Health, and now An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Minister Jim Wells in April 2015 to realise the recommendations set out in the report. In June 2016, Minister Harris and the former Health Minister in the North, Michelle O’Neill MLA, approved the initial business case and implementation plan investing in the development of an All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network, with Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin as an all-island centralised hub for paediatric cardiothoracic surgery and interventional cardiology. This Network is the first cross-jurisdictional clinical network of its kind internationally. As part of the Network, Crumlin provides cardiothoracic surgery and paediatric cardiac catheterisation for patients from Northern Ireland.
The phased implementation of the Network commenced in late 2015, with Crumlin providing surgery and cardiac catheterisation for emergency cases from Northern Ireland. Treatment of urgent cases commenced in March 2017. The transfer of elective cases from Northern Ireland began in April this year. The extension at Crumlin will enable the completion of this process in line with the IWG recommendations and the Network’s implementation plan.
This all island Network is an example of the benefits for patients of North-South cooperation in healthcare, with the two Departments of Health and services North and South working together in the interests of patients.
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