Craigavon Area Hospital is now one of five Regional Paediatric Cardiac Centres across Ireland, as part of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network.
The centres aim to provide timely cardiac services for children and families closer to home, avoiding the need to travel to Dublin or Belfast unless necessary.
Before 2018, children from Northern Ireland had to travel to England for heart surgery.
The All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network was set up to provide a single paediatric cardiology service across Ireland, delivered through a surgical centre in Dublin, a Children’s Heart Centre in Belfast and supported by enhanced paediatric cardiology services at local hospitals.
The Southern Trust team, based at Craigavon include Consultant Paediatrician with Expertise in Cardiology Dr Sinead Callaghan, Paediatric Cardiac Liaison Nurse, Clare McKeown, Cardiac Clinical Physiologist, Nuala Alexander and Medical Secretary, Michelle Black.
The team offer weekly clinics, based in Blossom Children’s Centre, to children with Congenital Heart Disease in addition to twice monthly Cardiac Outreach Clinics run with colleagues from the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. They work closely with teams in Belfast and Dublin to review and manage patients who need surgery or cardiac catheterisation. Locally based, they are also able to offer children regular echocardiogram clinics to monitor their heart conditions.
Since they were set up in May 2020, the team has looked after 345 Southern Trust patients who previously would have been referred to Belfast.
Dr Sinead Callaghan explains: “Congenital heart disease is a general term for a range of birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart. It is one of the most common types of birth defect, affecting up to 9 in every 100 babies born in the UK. Children with congenital heart disease need to be regularly reviewed and many will require surgery or other interventions like catheterisation.”
Paying tribute to the new team Julie McConville, Assistant Director of Specialist Child Health and Disability for the Southern Trust said: “We are absolutely delighted to help improve access to services for the many local children who need cardiac support. Having diagnostic and outpatient services closer to home is relieving some of the challenges for families who need this specialist care, who now only need to travel for their actual procedure. It is a huge testament to the team to be able to establish this service in the middle of a pandemic, working in partnership with colleagues across Ireland to ensure that children continue to get vital cardiac care.”
The team look forward to developing their services and are planning to establish an outpatient clinic at Daisy Hill Hospital in the future.