An international team of experts is to assess the current and future need for children's heart surgery in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The review was commissioned because of fears that Belfast could lose its children's cardiac unit.

It was jointly commissioned by Minister for Health James Reilly and his Stormont counterpart, Edwin Poots.

The international team will be chaired by Dr John Mayer, a consultant cardiac surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital in the US.

It will consider whether a two-centre service based in Dublin and Belfast would be feasible in the long term.

The lead surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast is retiring this week, leaving one remaining paediatric expert.

As a result, Belfast will be relying on surgeons from Dublin to keep the surgical unit in Belfast open.

This arrangement will remain in place for at least six months.

The conclusions of the international review are to be given to both health ministers next June.