Campaigners keen for resolution of baby post-mortems

Campaigners keen for resolution of baby post-mortems

10 April 2019

HEALTH campaigners have welcomed news that an all-island solution is being considered to address concern over the controversial decision to send babies to England for post-mortem examination.

An interim service currently results in babies being sent to the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool due to workforce issues.

Health chiefs say the arrangement with the specialist Liverpool hospital has been necessary to ensure what it describes as a “robust perinatal and paediatric pathology service” continues in Northern Ireland.

The Down Community Health Committee has voiced concern about the traumatic impact on families who have to travel with their babies to England for post-mortem, describing the practice as “inhumane’.

The issue was one of several campaigners were keen to discuss with Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly, but due to diary commitments, he was unable to meet them.

But,in a letter to the health group’s chairman, Eamonn McGrady, Mr Pengelly confirmed that the government department was very aware that changes to paediatric and perinatal pathology services “may add to the distress experienced by families at a devastating time in their lives and this is extremely regrettable”.

His letter continues: “Health and Social Care (HSC) NI has been liaising closely with key charities and families who have been affected by bereavement to ensure the arrangements are as sensitive and respectful as possible.”

Mr Pengelly said that looking at the longer to medium term, health officials from Northern Ireland and the Republic will investigate the feasibility of an all-island approach to the delivery of paediatric pathology services.

He explained that following on from engagement the Health and Social Care Board has had with colleagues in the Republic, the issue was recently discussed by chief medical officers and senior officials from health departments on either side of the border.

But Mr Pengelly warned it was important to acknowledge that any potential solution was “unlikely to be deliverable in the immediate future” due to current capacity constraints in the Republic and the time required for new trainees to specialise in this area.

His letter adds: “In the meantime, HSC will work closely with the Royal Colleges and training organisations to encourage and support training in this specialty in the future.

“Work is also underway to assess the feasibility of using emerging technologies which could potentially provide parents with many of the answers they need, which could be provided locally. This work will continue over the coming months.”

Mr McGrady described the option of delivering an all-island solution as “logical” and believes that it would be welcomed.

“It is clear from Mr Pengelly’s letter that there isn’t the capacity in the South to deliver the all-island service at the moment. Nonetheless, the feasibility of doing so in the future is being examined,” he continued.

“Confirmation that the use of modern technology to provide answers to parents and avoid a full invasive post mortem is also positive step.”

Mrs Anne Trainor, who was one of the first people to raise the issue of babies being sent to England for post-mortem, has welcomed Mr Pengelly’s letter.

The experienced health campaigner, whose daughter Joanne sadly passed away in 1983 aged four-and-a-half as a result of the Tricuspid Atresia heart condition, described the decision to perform post-mortems in Liverpool as “sickening and immoral”.

She continued: “For women who have had a miscarriage or whose baby dies, it is the single worst thing that is ever going to happen in your life. You will lose parents, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, but you will never experience the pain and heartbreak of losing a child.”

While Mrs Trainor believes there must be a paediatric pathologist who is prepared to provide cover in Northern Ireland, she admits she would also be in favour of an all island service.

The contents of the Permanent Secretary’s letter are due to be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the Down Community Health Committee int Denvir’s Coaching Inn, Downpatrick, at 7pm.