About the Extra Corporeal Life Support Service

As part of the Cardiorespiratory Clinical Unit, we are a Nationalised Commissioning Service awarded our status by the Nationalised Commissioning Group (NCG) for highly specialised services in extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and mechanical heart support.


ECMO is a supportive intensive care technique offered to children who develop acute but potentially reversible, respiratory/cardiac failure.

The ECMO machine is similar to a heart-lung bypass machine used for open heart surgery. Extra corporeal means ‘outside the body’ and membrane oxygenation means that oxygen is added to the blood via a membrane, or 'artificial lung'. ECMO therefore continuously circulates blood from the patient, through an artificial lung which adds oxygen to it prior to returning it to, and circulating it around the patient's body.

The ECMO Service was set up in 1992 to support newborn respiratory failure cases. Respiratory ECMO is part of the national ECMO service for England, treating infants and children with severe respiratory failure. Infants & children are admitted as emergency admissions either internally or from other hospitals. The critical transport of these children is supported by the Children’s Acute Transport Service (CATS).

High quality care

ECMO is a complex and invasive form of life support which is offered in four centres across the UK: Royal Hospital for Sick Children: Glasgow, The Freeman Hospital: Newcastle, Glenfield Hospital: Leicester and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children: London.

Our aim is to provide ongoing high quality care to the child and family in a highly technical setting. This is supported by excellent teamwork, optimising communication & the ongoing development of clinical skills.

The ECMO service has funding for two ECMO beds for 365 days/year, admitting infants & children between the ages of 0-16 years. Currently we support around 50 infants/children per year.

A recent development of our service has been the bridging program, which aims to support children with end stage heart failure whilst they wait for a transplant. This is now being achieved with the use of a ventricular assist device called the ‘Berlin Heart’.

We have a nursing & medical lead working within a large multidisciplinary team to provide high quality holistic care to the child & the family. The care of a child on ECMO is supported by Clinical Guidelines, allowing ECMO specialists to work autonomously making ongoing decisions depending on the clinical state of the child. The majority of children use anticipated pathways of recovery, a multidisciplinary plan of care, which sets down key events then assesses against goals for a specific group of patients.