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€200 bill if sports stars here want heart checks

YOUNG athletes worried that they may have a heart defect have to go on waiting lists to be tested -- or pay up to €200 in private fees.

The delays have been highlighted by the collapse of Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba.

The country's two main examination centres are not funded by the Government but rely on charitable donations.

A screening programme implemented in Italy for the past three decades has drastically cut sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs). Yet between 2005 and 2007, eight of the 120 autopsy-confirmed SCDs in Ireland involved athletes taking part in sporting activities.

Dr Deirdre Ward of the Centre for Cardiovascular Risk in Younger Persons (CRY), based in Tallaght Hospital, said the clinic did not have the capacity to test people who are concerned about their cardiac health but who do not have a family history of related conditions or display any symptoms.

There is a similar situation at the Mater facility, which is funded by the Mater Foundation. Dr Ward said the two clinics had "developed a bit of a waiting list" and they were struggling to get enough funding to keep current staff numbers.

"We are struggling a little bit and it's something we need to address so that people get the best possible care," she added.


"We can't see the people who are just concerned," Dr Ward said.

These people have no option but to turn to the private sector.

"We don't have enough cardiologists in Ireland, never mind sports cardiologists," Dr Ward told the Herald, adding that the Government needed to establish a national centre for sudden cardiac illnesses.

Muamba's manager Owen Coyle has backed the midfielder to make a full recovery from the cardiac arrest he suffered during Bolton's FA Cup fixture at White Hart Lane last Saturday.

The 23-year-old's condition has markedly improved since Monday, although he remains in intensive care at the London Chest Hospital.

Mr Coyle said: "Two things Fabrice has on his side are he is a fit young man and the life that he has had. He has had to fight every step of the way. I've managed to get to see him myself, as have close family members. I had a conversation. A few words exchanged -- which is a great sign."

Cardiac screening can cost as little as €50 if carried out by a GP or up to €200 at a private clinic.

If abnormalities are detected, the treatments would be covered either by the patient's health insurance or by a charity-funded clinic like CRY.