Northern Ireland

Charity calls for clarity over child cardiac services review

Surgeons operating on a patient

A children's charity is calling for more clarification about the terms of an external review into children's congenital heart services in Northern Ireland.

The review was announced on Thursday after a report revealed a higher than expected number of deaths among children during one particular procedure.

The Children's Heartbeat Trust said it would be seeking assurances that families of children with the condition play a central role in consultation.

Congenital cardiac disease is a rare condition particularly among children.

However, a UK database showed higher than expected mortality among children for a disorder known as Tetralogy of Fallot, a serious heart abnormality.

The review will concentrate on operations performed between 2007 and 2010.

The BBC understands that at least three children died during this period.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said he had been advised by the Health and Social care Board that it plans to commission an external review.

But on Friday, Sarah Quinlan of the Children's Heartbeat Trust said: "On behalf of parents, we will seek immediate clarification from the DHSSPS on the terms of reference and timescale of the department's external review of paediatric congenital cardiac services in Belfast.

"Most importantly, we will also seek assurances that the views of families of children with congenital heart disease play a central role in the consultation.

"We welcome the decision by the Belfast Trust to invite the Royal College of Surgeons to conduct a review and await its findings.

"Children's Heartbeat Trust has absolute confidence in the medical staff and services which support the treatment of children with congenital heart disease at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. "

A majority of children's heart operations are now carried out in England as the Belfast Health Trust has yet to replace a heart surgeon who retired in 2010.

Dr Frank Casey, a children's heart consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said he welcomed the review, but tougher safety measures were already in place.

"We have the most robust monitoring arrangements of any centre in the UK," he said.

"We audit our results on a weekly basis and we know that since we started that monitoring in the last 18 months, of all the children who have gone through our unit for cardiac surgery, there have been no deaths."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The minister has been informed of the decision by the Health and Social Care Board to carry out an external review of paediatric congenital cardiac services in Northern Ireland.

"He has made a statement to the Assembly to inform members that this review will provide assurance on the quality of services for patients in Northern Ireland."

The Belfast Trust has a free advice line for any parent who is concerned. It is 0800 9178226.

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