The number of children from Northern Ireland receiving heart surgery in Dublin has almost tripled this year.
Between January and September, 23 children travelled to Our Lady Children’s Hospital in Dublin, compared to just eight in all of 2016.
There has also been an increase in adolescent patients from the Republic travelling north for treatment.
Leading world heart specialists who attended a weekend conference in Belfast were told the all-island Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Network is delivering better outcomes for children across Ireland.
Keynote speaker Dr Christopher Caldarone, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, told BBC News NI that countries had a lot to learn from the network.
“I am looking forward to learning how the network is evolving here,” he said.
“We have a complex network in Ontario where we have patients cared for on four or five different sites.
“We use a lot of teleconferencing, a lot of sharing of information. We can learn from our colleagues in Belfast and Dublin who are already working together.”
A number of heart families also attended to share their experience.
Annette Savage and her daughter Rianna said the service meant that care was provided just 100 miles away.
Rianna, an 11-year-old pupil at St Louise’s Comprehensive College in Belfast, said being treated at Our Lady’s Hospital meant all her family could be close-by.
“Being in Dublin meant my two brothers could come and visit me. It also meant my mum and my dad could stay,” she said.
“The nurses were the same throughout my stay which was great because I got to know them. “
Rianna’s mum Annette said she could not imagine having to travel to England while leaving the rest of the family in Belfast.
“Initially Rianna had gone to have a stent inserted, but required emergency open heart surgery,” she said.
“We weren’t expecting it and while it was traumatic, not being too far from home was great in that family came down and, as I am diabetic, at the last minute they were able to bring me all my medication too.
“It was stressful – but it could have been worse. We just took the positive out of what was a bad situation.”
The CHD Network is the first integrated clinical network to operate on an island-wide basis.
It emerged following a commitment from the Irish government and NI Executive in 2015 to create a “world-class patient and family-centric CHD service for the island of Ireland”.
The network was launched after health ministers on both sides of the border accepted the recommendations of an international working group led by Dr John Mayer from Boston Children’s Hospital.
Dr Frank Casey, a consultant paediatric cardiologist in Belfast, said the past year has seen significant progress.
“We have worked very hard to accommodate the difficult group of patients, including the urgent and emergency patients and that was a very big worry for us in Belfast,” Dr Casey said.
“Also fewer have to travel to England so that is working for children and their families.”
Lars Nolke a Cardiologist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin’s Crumlin area said the network was proving a success.
“The surgical part of the programme is growing and will continue to grow as Crumlin continues to increase and we can extend our capacity,” he said.