Professor Craig Williams.

Exeter expert to advise on care for children with heart problems

An expert in children’s health from the University of Exeter has been selected to join an expert steering committee that will give children born with heart problems the best possible chance in life.

Professor Craig Williams, Director of the University’s Children’s Health & Exercise Research Centre, has joined Heart Research UK’s ‘Helping Little Hearts’ campaign.

The campaign seeks to provide rehabilitation services and lifestyle advice for children, and their parents, leaving hospital following heart surgery or treatment for a life-long condition.

The campaign was set up in response to what has been seen as a glaring gap in children’s healthcare. It aims to ensure that every children's heart centre in the UK has the know-how, personnel and equipment to make sure that every child, and their parents, leaves hospital knowing how to live a healthy life.

Professor Craig Williams of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter said: “It is a real privilege to be invited to assist with the ‘Helping Little Hearts’ campaign. Through our work at the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre we are striving to understand how children’s bodies work, particularly in response to exercise. This is a wonderful example of how our expertise at the University is making real benefits to people’s lives.”

Barbara Harpham, National Director of Heart Research UK, said “Currently, if an adult suffers a heart attack or is hospitalised because of heart problems, they leave hospital fully informed about the type of diet, exercise and general lifestyle regime they should follow. With youngsters, this rarely happens.  They go home without a rehabilitation programme and without any guidelines about what they can and can’t do.”

Heart Research UK will use the money raised to fill the gap in service provision.  Current figures show that one in 145 children are born with a congenital heart problem.  Some will receive a new heart while others will spend most of their young lives receiving treatment.

Around a dozen paediatric centres in the UK will be invited to bid for a pilot study worth up to £50,000 to research the best rehabilitation programme before leaving hospital.  Once this has been trialled, the charity will pay to roll it out to specialist centres, offering youngsters and parents monthly sessions with physiotherapists and specialist paediatric nurses who will work with the them to provide advice, education and practical help, as well as the equipment needed in each unit.

Barbara Harpham added: “The main aim is to enable children to make decisions for themselves - at school, in a restaurant, in the countryside or park - knowing they will be based on tried and tested, sound advice but also have back-up for as long as they need it.”

Date: 16 April 2012