Health Minister Robin Swann said he discussed the potential for further synergies in cancer services, children's heart services, kidney transplant services and paediatric pathology with his southern counterpart Stephen Donnelly at the twenty-fourth North/South Ministerial Council meeting in the health and food safety sectoral format in October.
"The Council noted the ongoing success of the radiotherapy services at Altnagelvin Area Hospital and the fact that a review of the service level agreement has been undertaken," Mr. Swann told MLAs in an update on the meeting this week.
Mr. Swann noted that there was an increase in the number of patients from across the border accessing cancer services in Derry.
"The North West Cancer Centre in Altnagelvin continues to be a successful example of North/South cooperation and brings a cross-border dimension to cancer services. The Member will be aware that it was officially opened in May 2017.
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"It provides access to radiotherapy treatment for half a million people and generally reduces travel time for patients in both jurisdictions. Between January and August, a total of 150 patients who were referred from the Republic of Ireland commenced treatment, which is an increase from 130 for the same period last year.
"That is covered by the memorandum of understanding. That work continues, and we look forward to embedding and sharing practice regarding the further development of our cancer strategy," he said.
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew, the Chairperson of the Committee for Health, asked the minister about the scope for enhanced cross-border working.
"As you know, health arrangements between the North and the South are becoming increasingly routine and include the paediatric congenital cardiac services in Dublin's children's hospitals and the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin, which treats cancer patients from both sides of the border.
"Did you and Minister Donnelly discuss any further areas where collaboration can be developed so that the whole island can share and benefit from medical expertise North and South, including the anguished situation around paediatric pathology, which continues not to be available in the North?" asked Mr. Gildernew.
Mr. Swann replied: "I thank the Chair for his points. From my statement, he will be aware of a number of ongoing cross-border initiatives that we discussed and provided updates on, not just in regard to children's cardiac services, cooperation on which is long-established and very important, but to the living donor exchange kidney transplant service and cancer services in the north-west.
"The issue of paediatric pathology was raised and discussed. That is an issue and a challenge, not just for us but for our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland. Both Ministers have asked their departmental officials to explore what can be done and look at whether there could be a recruitment process or a service delivered that would serve all across both jurisdictions so that we can see what best serves the people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when they experience the very traumatic event of the loss of a child."