One of the key roles of a hospital perinatal and paediatric pathology service is to conduct post-mortem examinations
The great majority of paediatric post-mortems in Northern Ireland are babies who are stillborn, as well as late miscarriages and babies who survive only a short time after birth. It also includes, much more rarely, hospital post-mortem examinations of older babies and children.
Post-mortem examinations are currently being carried out on an interim basis at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool.
The service was previously provided on a regional basis by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Following the resignation of the sole paediatric pathologist at Belfast Trust, significant efforts were made to retain a service within Northern Ireland – including repeated recruitment drives both nationally and internationally.
To ensure that families could still access a service, interim arrangements were put in place to provide paediatric pathology services at Alder Hey in Liverpool. The interim service commenced in January 2019 and families continue to be supported in their decision to transfer babies or children for hospital consented post-mortem.
Discussions between the Departments of Health in NI and ROI, on exploring the potential options for an all-island network model for providing this service in the future, are also continuing. However, the feasibility of an all-island approach would only be deliverable in the longer term, due to current capacity constraints and the time required for new trainees to specialise in this area.
In the meantime, the HSC will work closely with the relevant Royal Colleges and training organisations to encourage and support training in this specialty. An open-ended recruitment process with an agency specialising in international recruitment is also ongoing.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) have been working very closely with bereaved families, staff, charities and other partners to ensure that any baby or child who requires a post-mortem is treated with the utmost respect, dignity and sensitivity throughout their journey now and in the future, and to ensure that families are fully supported when facing these very traumatic circumstances.
The HSCB and PHA have co-produced a short presentation to support parents make the difficult choice regarding a post mortem for their baby with bereaved parents, HSC staff and charities. The HSCB extends special thanks to all of the parents who were involved in this process whom very kindly shared the experience of their own journey.
The following short video introduces those who will be caring for babies during a post mortem. It has been co-produced by bereaved parents together with HSC staff and local charities which provide compassionate support for families.