NiVS ushers in a new era in specialist care

NiVS ushers in a new era in specialist care
Cardiologists Julie Kavanagh and Julie Hamilton-Elliott.

Northern Ireland now has its first specialist-led, multi-disciplinary, small animal veterinary referral hospital. Clinical directors Aidan McAlinden and Rob Adams talk to NI Veterinary Today…

Launched in January 2020, Northern Ireland Veterinary Specialists (NiVS) is a stand-alone veterinary referral service housed within the same building as Cromlyn House Veterinary Hospital near Hillsborough.

The clinic, which offers vets across Ireland a full range of cutting-edge diagnostic services and complex, specialist-level treatment, is run by County Down vet, Aidan McAlinden and Rob Adams, both of whom are recognised specialists in small animal surgery.

The two surgeons are joined by Julie Kavanagh, an ACVIM specialist in cardiology; Julie Hamilton-Elliott, also a cardiologist, and a highly-qualified RVN team led by Shirley Bell, Grainne Kelly and a team of interns. 

The Cromlyn House practice, which was founded in nearby Hillsborough in 1985 by Chris and Lynn Heffron, was acquired by the CVS Group in the middle of 2016. It has since invested in the building and facilities to allow Aidan and Rob’s new referral hospital to become a reality. 

While the new hospital shares a building with the Cromlyn House small animal practice, both businesses are entirely independent of each other.

Completing the service line-up at the site on the Old Coach Road is dedicated out-of-hours care provider, MiNightVet.

NiVS shares a refurbished reception lobby and consulting facilities with the Cromlyn House practice but the rest of its operation is separately housed in a refurbished wing of the building that, at one time, was home to Cromlyn’s equine department.

Among the facilities offered at the new clinic are: two bespoke operating theatres, a 16-slice CT scanner, digital X-Ray suite, high-definition arthroscopy, an ultrasound scanner, 12-lead ECG system, fluoroscopy, Holter monitoring and separate, air-conditioned dog and cat wards.

For Aidan, the new specialist practice represents the realisation of a business idea that first occurred to him around a decade ago. During his tenure as Assistant Professor of Small Animal Surgery at University College Dublin (UCD), Aidan was a frequent visiting specialist in Northern Ireland and soon realised that there was strong demand north of the border for specialist-led veterinary medicine.

Aidan McAlinden (right) is pictured with business partner, Rob Adams.
Aidan McAlinden (right) is pictured with business partner, Rob Adams.

Paths crossed
Aidan, who originally graduated from UCD in 2003, began his career at Campsie Veterinary Centre in Omagh and the Brook Veterinary Clinic in Enniskillen before returning to UCD to undertake his residency training.

Rob Adams was born in Wales and after graduating from Edinburgh, he spent a short time in practice before embarking on an internship at Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where he quickly developed a real passion for surgery.

That was around 2009 and after leaving Davies for a short period of practice, Rob returned and undertook its residency programme. It was during his time there that his path crossed with that of Aidan, who had gone to work at Davies after his residency in Dublin. Aidan eventually returned to Ireland, but Rob stayed on as a consultant. He was still there in July last year when he learned of Aidan’s  plans to develop a specialist-led surgical practice in Northern Ireland, prompting him to renew contact.

‘I think it was the case that both of us just wanted to be here in Northern Ireland,’ recalls Aidan. ‘I wanted to return to my roots with my young family and Rob had just married our specialist cardiologist, Julie Kavanagh, who is also originally from County Down. They both wanted to relocate here too, but we were also aware that there was no specialist hospital here that we’d be able to come to.’

Veterinary nurses Grainne Kelly and Eimear Collins.

The CVS Group’s acquisition of the Cromlyn House Veterinary Hospital in 2016 provided the perfect opportunity for the new clinical directors.

Cromlyn House is a high quality, primary care practice with extensive facilities at its base on the Old Coach Road as well as a branch practice in Lisburn, which it opened in 2011. It also had available space at the Hillsborough site following the decision taken several years ago to discontinue equine care there.

‘The new project involved considerable investment,’ says Rob. ‘And Cromlyn House took the opportunity provided by the arrival of NiVS to refurbish the entire building and reconfigure some elements of the services, such as its inpatient ward.’

For Alison Irwin, clinical director at Cromlyn House, the six-month refurbishment scheme did present some organisational headaches, not least a requirement to relocate the practice to a Portacabin for a period during the ongoing renovations. She is, however, delighted now to be working in close proximity with her new neighbours:

‘It’s great having them here, even just for clinical discussion,’ she says. ‘But also, if we have an animal that needs help we aren’t able to provide, it’s good to know that it can be treated onsite without having to be referred further afield.’

The refurbishments allowed for Cromlyn House to modernise its inpatient hospitalisation facilities. Its new wards can accommodate 20 dogs and 12 cats and it now has a new diagnostic imaging suite for ultrasound and endoscopy and access to new consulting facilities adjacent to the reconfigured reception area.

Alison is full of praise for the help and investment CVS has given throughout the process:

‘They’ve been very supportive of the changes we’ve introduced,’ she says.  ‘There has been a lot of investment here and they have also supported our staff while they undertake various certificates, we’re really very happy with the relationship.’

For Aidan and Rob, the immediate priorities are the development of relationships with the local veterinary community:

‘The first thing that we want to do now is get to know people and let them know that we’re here to help,’ says Rob. ‘The key thing for us now is to develop our case load and develop efficiencies that will enable us to manage that work.

‘We’re also looking to the future with aspirations to become a totally multi-disciplinary practice. We are working towards adding  a specialist internal medicine service here and we’d like to offer other disciplines and in-house continuing education facilities allowing us to offer an even broader and more rounded service to the veterinary profession.’

And while the practice currently operates an internship programme, its clinical directors aspire to launch their own residency training programme, training the specialist vets of the future.

‘In two or three years’ time, we’d like to think that we will have grown and developed,’ says Aidan. ‘We have space here on this site for expansion and that’s something we’ll look at as we extend our specialist services.’