11 February 2006

DOH will fund heart specialist

Belfast Telegraph

Health chief steps in after Belfast Telegraph story

By Nigel Gould
11 February 2006

A specialist nurse for a heart condition that is the biggest medical cause of death in young people will take up a post at Ulster's biggest hospital after all - after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the post had been turned down because of funding.

The Cardiomyopathy Association, a leading UK charity that supports families affected by the killer condition, had offered to make available £40,000 for the two-year appointment of a specialist nurse at the Royal.

But the hospital told the Telegraph that, while it supported the introduction of such a service, it could not guarantee "recurrent" funding for the nursing post at this time.

After our story yesterday, Department of Health chiefs stepped in.

And in a statement last night, Health Minister, Shaun Woodward, said funding would be made available after all.

He said: "Undoubtedly a very strong case has been made for a specialist nurse. I am grateful to the Cardiomyopathy Association which has offered to pay for this post for the next two years. My Department will take on this long-term commitment to fund this nurse thereafter. We can do this because of my commitment to take money out of bureaucracy and put it into front-line services.

"This is an important post and it is absolutely right that we should make this response."

The Association's chief executive, Robert Hall, who was visiting Belfast, last night, praised the Belfast Telegraph, for highlighting the issue.

"We are grateful to the Belfast Telegraph for the story," he said. "This is just fantastic news. We are very pleased that recurrent funding will be made available by the Department and we look forward to working with the Royal.

"We already fund a nurse specialist post at the Heart Hospital in London and one shared between the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and the Royal Alexandra in Paisley.

"Both our nurses do invaluable work helping families with cardiomyopathy."

Ulster families affected by the condition, a disease of the heart muscle that is often inherited, had urged the Royal to appoint the nurse. One Newtownards couple, Sam and Amanda Graham, who lost their daughter, 14-year, Rebecca, last July to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - the biggest medical cause of sudden death in the under 35s - said a nurse specialist was vital.

Rebecca, a pupil at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, experienced dizziness and fainting, symptoms of the condition, from the age of 12 but was not diagnosed for two months.

Sam (41) last night thanked the Telegraph and said the appointment would help many families affected by the condition.

"The article in the Belfast Telegraph was terrific and it got results," he said.

"We just can't believe it. Words can't tell you how delighted we are."

Sam's wife Amanda (39) and Rebecca's 12-year-old brother, Matthew, have been screened for the condition and are clear. But Sam has been found to have the condition.

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