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New innovative research launched by Health Minister Robin Swann will enhance the delivery of evidence-based and cost-effective cardiac care to children and young people across the island of Ireland.

Set to create new academic partnerships, the project is the latest initiative of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network, which was established in 2015 by then Ministers for Health in Northern Ireland and Ireland to ensure high quality and timely access to specialist cardiac services can be provided for all children and young people wherever they live across the island of Ireland.

Speaking at an event hosted by Ulster University and Queens University Belfast, Minister Swann launched the commencement of the Northern Ireland strand of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Network Research Programme, which will work in partnership with University College Dublin and Children’s Health Ireland. The launch follows the appointment earlier this year of Professor Frank Casey to Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, and Professor Colin McMahon to University College Dublin and Children’s Health Ireland.

Launching the research, NI Health Minister Swann said:

“The launch of the research programme today marks another significant step forward for the All-Island CHD Network which is helping to deliver a vital service for vulnerable children and young people on both sides of the border. Investment in research, education and innovation is key to ensuring the provision of high-quality care and the integration of leading advances in research into clinical practice. My department has played a key role in supporting the development of this important collaborative research initiative.”

Minister for Health in Ireland, Stephen Donnelly, said:

“I welcome the launch of this valuable initiative of the All-Island CHD Network. Working collaboratively with healthcare providers and university partners provides an excellent opportunity to create an all-island research and education network which will help improve the care, health outcomes and experiences for those children living with congenital heart disease and their families.”

To date, the all-island network has overseen transformative change including the transfer of all Northern Ireland emergency, urgent and new elective surgery from Great Britain to Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin in Dublin, the opening of the newly-refurbished Children’s Heart Centre at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 2019, and the establishment of a network of regional centres around the island where care can be delivered closer to home by paediatricians with a specialist expertise in congenital heart disease.

Professor Paul Bartholomew, Ulster University Vice-Chancellor commented:

“At the heart of all research innovation is partnership, and the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network Research Programme has fostered an outstanding partnership resulting in a transformative impact on patient lives across the island of Ireland. Ulster University is delighted to be a core partner in this work, alongside Queen’s University Belfast, the Department of Health, University College Dublin, and Children’s Health Ireland, and I commend the work of Professor Frank Casey and Professor Colin McMahon and their teams of skilled researchers who are working together to transform both clinical outcomes and research.”

Ulster University’s Clinical Professor of Paediatric Cardiology, Frank Casey said:

“I want to thank our Health Minister and his department for the support and significant financial investment which will allow us to develop this exciting research programme in children’s heart disease. The partnership between Ulster University and Queen’s University, working in collaboration with our colleagues in the south, allows us to harness the talents of all researchers in this field on the island of Ireland. By working together in clinical care and research we can provide a world class service for all our families affected by congenital heart disease.”

Dr Len O’Hagan, Chair of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network said:

Today this important and unique Network enters the ‘world-class’ phase of the journey we started in 2015. Despite the setbacks of the pandemic in recent years, it has remained our guiding vision to strive towards a world class CHD service with patients and families at its centre. On behalf of everybody with an interest in improving our knowledge and treatment of congenital heart disease, I want to commend Professor Frank Casey and Professor Colin McMahon, and the three universities working in partnership, for the immense work they have done to enable this important step to be taken.”

Professor Stuart Elborn, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen's University Belfast, said:

“We are delighted to be hosting the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network Research Programme. This presents a real opportunity to create new partnerships which will drive research focused on health innovation and the implementation of evidence based, cost effective and high quality cardiac care to children and young people across the island of Ireland.”

This research programme will focus on a number of different themes. These will include development and application of new technologies, improving early detection and developing strategies to optimise the best physical, educational and developmental outcomes for all those treated for congenital heart disease in childhood.