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"When you have a child with a heart complaint... it's a really, really frightening situation to be in"

Five-year-old Ava Doherty, who suffers from a chronic heart condition, is one of those dependent on University Hospital Waterford’s cardiac support services.

john John Doherty and five-year-old Ava

THE FATHER OF a young girl with a chronic heart condition has called for the government to instate a second cardiac catheterisation laboratory (cath lab) at University Hospital Waterford (UHW).

St John’s Park native John Doherty’s daughter Ava has a rare heart complaint known as a Tetralogy of Fallot.

UHW has been at the centre of a lengthy political row involving the government and independent minister (and Waterford TD) John Halligan concerning its cardiac services.

Halligan claims he was promised that a second cath lab would be installed at UHW in return for his support of the government in the aftermath of February’s election.

That request was subsequently denied following an official review of the available services by independent consultant Dr Niall Herity. At present the single available cath lab operates on a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday basis.

Among the bones of contention over Herity’s review include his statement that the catchment population for UHW is 276,000 people.

UHW consultants maintain that the relevant figure is over 500,000 people.

WUH University Hospital Waterford Source: Google Maps

“Lucky to be here”

51-year-old John says that having a child with a congenital heart defect while living in that catchment area is “a really, really frightening situation to be in”.

Ava’s condition saw her born with her heart in four parts, a condition that led to her undergoing open heart surgery at just six months.  Her long-term health is dependent on a future procedure, one in which “everything will be done at once” according to John. The necessity for that operation “could happen at any time”.

“After five o’clock you have no-one. The outcome doesn’t look good if you’re down here after that time,” he tells TheJournal.ie.

The second lab is a big issue for us. There’s an awful lot of people around here who are lucky to be here. Seven minutes later and they’re on their way to Cork, not Waterford.

John says that he “doesn’t agree” with the Herity review’s assertion of a lower catchment population for UHW.

“I don’t agree with extending the hours, what we need her is a second lab and a 24-hour service,” he says.

At the end of the day, if and when my own heart gets me into trouble, where do we go?

Harris’ decision

The political farrago surrounding Halligan’s threats to bring down the government over the issue has died down to an extent, with Halligan claiming that behind-the-scenes talks are in train in an effort to bring closure to the problem.

The issue hasn’t gone away however.

Last weekend a protest involving several thousand people was held outside UHW in the rain, with those present calling for a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris regarding the provision of cardiac services for the south east.

That protest seems to have had the desired effect.

On Friday Harris announced his intention  to visit the hospital in the coming weeks to speak with its staff, a decision broadly welcomed by the hospital.

“We welcome the decision by Minister Harris to visit University Hospital Waterford to hear the concerns of staff and management,” said Dr Patrick Owens, speaking on behalf of UHW.

We remain convinced that the needs of the population of the south east will remain unaddressed by the recommendations of the Herity report, and look forward to speaking with the Minister to discuss how cardiac services can be improved.

With Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin likewise due to visit the hospital in the coming days, the situation at UHW looks set to continue dominating headlines for the foreseeable future.

Read: Questions continue to stack up regarding cardiac services at Waterford Hospital

Read: ‘I was told he was just having a panic attack – an hour later, he was dead’

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