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Heart medics shortage leaves young in danger

IRELAND is suffering from a shortage of cardio technicians capable of carrying potentially life-saving heart exams.

Experts say there is a demand for the specialist technicians -- but few are qualified enough to carry out the variety of tests needed at most heart centres.

The importance of heart monitor tests for young people at risk of cardiac problems has been highlighted recently by the on-pitch collapse of Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba.

The Herald previously revealed how at least one centre in Tallaght Hospital has the equipment to offer up to 3,000 tests per year but only the funding for enough staff to do less than half that amount.

Now it has emerged that a lack of qualified staff is a wider problem.

Dr Deirdre Ward of Centre for Cardiac Risk in the Young explained that there are different grades of cardio technicians.

"The hardest ones to come by are the people who are trained up to a high level to do ultrasound, the echo test. They are few and far between," she said. "There would have been places that would have advertised for them and found nobody who is suitably qualified to do it.

"It takes a long time to train somebody to do that. In mainland Europe they very often don't have cardio technicians. The tests are done by the doctors," Dr Ward explained.

She added that while Ireland operates a similar system to the UK, Australia and New Zealand, it would be very rare to find French or German technicians who could do the work here.

As many as 80 people under the age of 35 die from sudden cardiac death in Ireland every year, mostly due to inherited heart disease or birth defects that they knew nothing about.

More than 10,000 people in Ireland are thought to carry genes for inherited heart disease -- but most will never find out unless illness or tragedy occurs.

However there is no public facility where young people can undergo testing unless they are already showing symptoms of cardio problems or have a family history of such illnesses.

"They all come in fear of their life, having all sports banned and people not sleeping at night.

"So if they can come in and get the all clear then they can get back to normal life. For that vast majority of people that's what happens," noted Dr Ward.

"It's a much smaller minority where we actually find a problem and then have to talk seriously about medications and lifestyle."