Saturday 25 November 2017

Families with children who need transplants forced to relocate to the UK because of air ambulance shortages

Stock photo
Stock photo
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Parents of children who need organ transplants are being forced to relocate to the UK due to a shortage of air ambulances to bring them to hospital in time when an organ becomes available.

Ireland does not have the capacity to carry out paediatric liver and heart transplants and young patients are treated in the UK under the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS).

However, due to staff shortages the Air Corp is now providing a limited air ambulance service.

For paediatric heart patients the window to get to hospital when a donor becomes available is four hours. For liver patients it is six hours.

Families who fear they might not make it to the hospital in time have made the decision to relocate to ensure their child is able to undergo the life-saving operation.

However, one parent whose child underwent a transplant abroad before the changes to the transfer service, said the situation was adding stress to what was already a worrying and stressful time for any family.

"Even post-transplant it's stressful because what if your child needs to be rushed abroad urgently if they get ill, which can happen, what happens if there is nobody there to transfer them?," the worried parent, who asked not to be named, said.

"It's very concerning for any parent, especially when you already have a sick child which is very stressful."

It is understood the restricted service being operated by the Air Corp out of their Baldonnell base is due to staff shortages.

The Children's Liver Disease Ireland charity has written a letter to Our Lady's Chidlren's Hospital in Crumlin (OLCHC) and the Department of Heath raising concern that families of children in need of a liver transplant were not in receipt of financial assistance despite relocating to the UK.

A spokeswoman for the Children's Hospital Group told Independent.ie that measures were being taken to support  families who choose to relocate.

"We can advise that air ambulance services are provided to the HSE by a number of providers.  In recent months for specific reasons outside the control of the HSE the availability of certain air ambulance services has become restricted," she said.

"The HSE and Department of Health are very aware of the implications of this for individual patients and families and in consideration of same specific assistance in the form of funding to individual families to mitigate these circumstances was put in place. 

"Therefore, on February 16 last, the HSE notified OLCHC that  families who choose to relocate to the UK to mitigate any risk of timely transfer should an organ become available are being supported in this decision. 

"Each case is examined on a case by case basis and is specific to mitigation of the transport risk within the recognised time frames.

In 2016 14 children were referred abroad for heart transplants.

Earlier this year the HSE confirmed that the need for an Irish transplant unit for child cardiac patients was under review.

The HSE introduced a travel policy scheme for the TAS where "the economic air or sea fares of the patient and, in the case of a child, the child and one accompanying adult" are reimbursed.

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