Fears for children's lives over lack of transplant transport
Urgent new measures to ensure children awaiting life-saving liver and heart transplants are transported to UK hospitals on time are called for in a new investigation report today.
The need for a solution has escalated since early November when the Air Corps, which has a shortage of pilots, had to end its service to transfer these children between 7pm and 7.30am, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has revealed.
The Air Corps or Irish Coast Guard currently transport most of these children, who have just eight hours to get to hospitals abroad to ensure they do not lose out on a vital organ.
However, since November 6 the Air Corps is no longer available for night-time transport, known as Priority 1, which it had been providing on a temporary basis for a month after the Coast Guard had to pull out due to regulatory rules.
At the end of October, three children were on the transplant list at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin and were waiting for the call from the UK to hear a suitable heart or liver had been found for them.
Some families over the past year have relocated to the UK temporarily to ensure their child will not miss out. Hiqa said the reimbursement of expenses is still likely to leave these families out of pocket.
Hiqa found 32 children were transported to the UK since 2012 and of these 24 got the call overnight. Around 22 of the journeys were not completed in the optimal time but it did not have an impact on the children. One child was put on an Aer Lingus flight in January due to bad weather.
It calls for a series of short-term, medium-term and long-term arrangements to be put in place to guarantee children the vital service.
The patient safety body said in the next six months the optimal solution may be to negotiate changes to the existing Coast Guard contract to allow for 12-hour rosters at one or more bases, allowing them to take children who may get a call overnight.
"The cost of this option should be compared to the cost associated with the ongoing use of a commercial provider or of having a dedicated Coast Guard crew on standby at the Dublin base," it said.
Another possible short-term solution is to explore the use of an air ambulance service supported by a charity and examine whether the Coast Guard can fly patients to the UK under a 24-hour shift following changes to regulations.
In the immediate term, the best option is to engage a private provider.
Hiqa, which was asked to carry out an assessment, said the preferred long-term alternatives are those provided by the Irish Coast Guard or the Air Corps.
Responding to the report, Health Minister Simon Harris said a private provider was in place to transport children for a transplant since November 6.
In the meantime, his officials and the HSE will work to put a long-term solution in place with talks across various departments.