Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Pioneering paediatric heart screening launched at Daisy Hill

Daisy Hill hospital has become the first hospital in Northern Ireland to trial a new heart screening test for babies is being pioneered at Daisy Hill.

The pioneering test – a routine oxygen saturation test called pulse oximetry – will be carried out on all new babies before they are discharged home. The test aims to pick up congenital heart defects that would not be found with the current routine tests. Readings lower than 95% will prompt doctors to carry out further investigations.

The non-invasive test involves a sensor being attached to a baby’s hand or foot for a few minutes to reveal the oxygen saturation level.

Congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common birth defect in Northern Ireland and while there are currently some antenatal screening for heart issues, many babies are discharged with problems that can remain undetected for weeks or months.

As  Dr Bassam Aljarad, Consultant Paediatrician, who has introduced the new screening programme, explains: “Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a general term for a range of birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart.

“It is one of the most common types of birth defect, affecting up to nine in every 1,000 babies born in the UK.

“Nearly 50% of babies born with a CHD appear healthy at first without any noticeable symptoms and may be discharged, for their health to deteriorate months or sometimes a few years later.

“A more timely detection will help us to identify more babies with cyanotic CHD at a much earlier stage, ensuring that we can keep them monitored and give them the treatment they need to prevent greater health  consequences, disability or in the worse cases premature death.

“Only 32% with life threatening CHD can be diagnosed by clinical examination alone, whilst more than double this number can be diagnosed through this additional screening test.”

Irwyn McKibbin, Chairman of Heartbeat NI, which has funded the screening equipment, welcomed the fact that the Paediatric Team at Daisy Hill are introducing the pilot study.

“Already undertaken by many hospitals across England and mandatory in many states across the USA, we at Heartbeat NI have been advocating for this screening across Northern Ireland for a number of years.

“This very simple and uninvasive test which takes just a matter of minutes can detect up to 76% of heart defects.

“This can have a crucial impact on the health and wellbeing of a child with a congenital heart condition, as well as relieving the stress of parents who in many cases can take as they believe to be a normal healthy child home from hospital, only to find at a later date a deterioration in their health and in the worst cases may require emergency surgery.”

The team at Daisy Hill plan to run the screening as a pilot for a year before making recommendations on whether it should be extended.