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Cardiac surgery patients from Northern Ireland are being sent to hospitals in Scotland in an effort to cut waiting lists.

A spokesperson for Northern health and social services board confirmed that it has about 30 patients going to two Scottish hospitals for cardiac surgery using waiting list initiative money.

The other three boards were unwilling to reveal where patients would be sent for operations, but the Republic of Ireland may be a destination for some.Health minister Bairbre de Brun said 561 people were on the cardiac surgery waiting list, and she had set a target to reduce by 50 per cent the number of people waiting more than 12 months by March 2003.

Ms de Brun said: 'The four health and social services boards have been purchasing cardiac surgery at units elsewhere for some patients who are able and willing to travel.'

She added: 'Immediate action to improve recruitment and retention of staff, particularly nursing staff, in cardiac surgery is a priority if waiting times are to be reduced.

'I have allocated additional funding for supernumerary nursing posts in cardiac intensive care to support the existing staff and allow additional nurses to receive the specialised training.'

A cardiac surgery review and a review of cardiology services are out for public consultation.

Ms de Brun said that as some of the recommendations of the review have significant resource implications, implementation would be influenced by both the outcome of the consultation process and the availability of resources.