Northern Ireland

Post-mortem arrangements for children in NI 'not ideal'

Medical equipment including microscope Image copyright fstop123
Image caption Paediatric post-mortem examinations in Belfast ended in February

Post-mortem examinations on 24 infants from Northern Ireland have had to be carried out in Liverpool due to a lack of specialist staff.

The service ended in January when the remaining consultant left.

Since than bodies have been taken by ferry and air, accompanied by funeral directors, to Alder Hey Hospital.

The Public Health Agency said it was not ideal but it was important that parents could still avail of a high-quality paediatric pathology service.

Speaking to the BBC, the agency's Heather Reid said parents were given the option to accompany their baby on the journey to Liverpool.

"The new part in all of this is making that trip over to Liverpool," she said.

"The same process happens as before and parents can spend as much time as they want with their little one before the baby is accompanied on their journey to Liverpool and back by the Belfast Health trust undertaker.

'Not well enough'

In November, the BBC revealed that the Regional Paediatric Pathology service at the Belfast Health Trust would be closing.

Since the start of February, 24 families have opted for the service in Liverpool.

Other families will have decided not to have a post-mortem examination performed.

Image copyright SzB

A post-mortem examination can be carried out in the case of a miscarriage, stillbirth or death of a young child.

For some families, it is important to know why they have miscarried - especially if it has happened more than once.

Parents will also have many unanswered questions after a stillbirth.

The Health and Social Care Board accepts that the journey to Liverpool may affect a parent's decision on whether or not to have a post-mortem examination.

One mother told the BBC that it was bad enough losing her child for her to be parted from the baby again.

The mother also said she was not well enough to accompany her baby to Liverpool.

All-Ireland option?

The board and the Public Health Agency say they are working alongside charities to ensure procedures are in place and the entire process is respectful.

It takes between 24 to 36 hours between the baby leaving Belfast and returning again after the post-mortem examination in Liverpool, the board says.

The story has yet again raised the issue of gaps in the workforce.

Three paediatric pathologists in Belfast have either retired or resigned since 2016.

Image caption Ms Reid said the interim arrangement with Alder Hey Hospital had been "necessary"

Mrs Reid said it was becoming a common problem across many specialities.

"About one in five posts are currently vacant in the UK," she said.

"But we are working very closely with colleagues and the department, including the department in the south, and the training agencies to try and encourage students to take this up as a speciality."

The interim arrangement with Alder Hey Hospital had been "necessary to ensure that a robust perinatal and paediatric pathology service continues to be offered to Northern Ireland families from 2019", she added.

With 100,000 births across the island of Ireland, an all-island paediatric pathology service is also being considered as an option in the long term.

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