Objectives: To assess the volume and range of diagnosis in new patients referred to paediatric cardiac outpatient clinics.
Methods: Data was collected prospectively, using a proforma completed at all outpatient clinics over a period of three months.
Results: There were 526 new referrals, representing an increase of almost one-fifth compared to 5 years ago. Of the referrals, 78 percent came from hospital doctors, and 22 percent from general practitioners, with 221 of those referred being infants. A heart murmur was the most common reason for referral, representing almost two-thirds of cases. In 372 patients referred (71 percent), the heart was discovered to be structurally normal. The proportion of patients with normal hearts referred by general practitioners and hospital doctors were 81 percent, and 68 percent, respectively (p less than 0.004). There was considerable variation in the pattern of referral between doctors working in different hospitals.
Conclusion: New referrals to centres dealing with congenital cardiac malformations are increasing alarmingly, with the majority of the children referred having normal hearts. This increase in demand for specialist services has important implications for resources and training.