There have been changes to the perinatal and paediatric pathology service in Northern Ireland, with post-mortem examinations now 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. However, 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.
The HSCB also approached every NHS provider of paediatric pathology services across the UK, as well as those in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) however, regrettably, no organisation could provide continuity through an in-reach service to Northern Ireland for the provision of hospital perinatal and paediatric post-mortems.
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 on 3 January 2019 and, to date, a number of Northern Ireland families have been supported in their decision to transfer babies or children for hospital consented post-mortem.
The HSCB has been working very closely with 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 will have our full support when facing these very traumatic circumstances.
Looking at the medium to longer term, health officials from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will investigate the feasibility of an all-island approach to the delivery of paediatric pathology services. Senior Department of Health officials have had a constructive preliminary discussion with counterparts from the Irish Republic’s Department of Health to explore options for an all-island network model to provide this service in the future.
It is important to acknowledge at this stage that any potential solution is unlikely to be deliverable in the immediate future, due to current capacity constraints in RoI, 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 in the future.
An open-ended recruitment process with an agency specialising in international recruitment is also ongoing.
The primary purpose 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.