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Northern Ireland Sonographer Training Project

Photograph of local radiographers at the Mater Hospital Belfast.
Local Radiographers at the Mater Hospital, Belfast were the first in Northern Ireland to receive the specialist sonography training. Pictured are Jan Forster, Tiny Tickers Trainer (front left) and Radiographers Ruth Logue, Keri Nelson and Roberta Stewart.

Sonographers throughout Northern Ireland are to receive specialist fetal cardiac training to help detect babies with heart defects during pregnancy scans.  As many as one in every 125 babies has a congenital heart defect (CHD) and when CHD is detected during pregnancy, babies receive treatment from the earliest possible moment – and early detection is shown to improve outcomes by allowing delivery and post natal care to be planned at a much earlier stage.

Each year there are around 24,500 babies born in Northern Ireland.  Around 200 babies will have a life-threatening heart condition.  Early detection of these heart defects before birth means the babies’ delivery and care after birth can be carefully planned to give every baby the best chance of survival.  Finding out that their baby has a heart condition before birth also helps prepare parents and families for the birth of their baby.

The charity Tiny Tickers, working with the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency, has committed to provide training to every sonographer who performs the 20 week scan in the Health and Social Care Trusts.  The hands-on training will be available to more than 90 sonographers in hospitals across Northern Ireland to help them to detect congenital heart defects in babies.  Tiny Tickers is a UK-wide charity that aims to improve the detection, care and treatment of CHD in babies The charity supports parents and families dealing with a diagnosis, and campaigns to raise awareness of heart defects in babies so that parents know the signs to look out for.

The sonographers will receive the most up-to-date recommendations on what they should be looking for when they are looking at the heart as part of the 20-week scan. There are five views of the heart which should be obtained during the scan. The most recent addition is the 3 vessel and trachea or 3VT view. Sonographers will receive training on how best to carry out the cardiac part of the 20-week scan, including this relatively new addition to the scan.

A generous donation provided by Tiny Tickers ambassadors, former champion jockey Sir Anthony (AP) McCoy and his wife Chanelle has funded the training.

Tiny Tickers’ Chief Executive, Jon Arnold, said: “Tiny Tickers is here to help sonographers – giving them the skills and confidence to spot when a baby’s heart doesn’t look normal. Spotting a defect during a 20-week pregnancy scan can be very difficult, so we’re giving sonographers all the support we possibly can – including our experts going into local units across the country to train staff and provide theory conferences.

“We know the difference early detection makes for these babies and our training scheme is already delivering real measurable improvements.”

Dr Joanne McClean, Consultant, the Public Health Agency thanked Tiny Tickers for their support. Dr McClean said:  “We are delighted to be working with Tiny Tickers on this project. The Tiny Tickers training is part of an initiative aimed at improving the antenatal and subsequent cardiac care available for children across the region”.