Northern Ireland

Call for All-Ireland children's heart surgery provision

Prepping for surgery
Image caption Campaigners say that making children travel to England for heart surgery would be unacceptable

Campaigners have called for an all-Ireland network to secure the future of paediatric heart surgery in Belfast.

Earlier this year a UK-wide review said that although the service at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is safe, it is not sustainable.

It could mean that children would have to travel to England for treatment.

But the BBC understands cross-border discussions are ongoing about the possibility of developing an all-Ireland service.

Last month, Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots said he was reviewing the future of local paediatric heart surgery provision as a direct result of the conclusions of the UK-wide review.

The outcome of his review could mean children and families having to travel to England for treatment.

Those involved have argued that would be devastating, and would place great stress on parents and children.

The cross-border call was made by the Children's Heartbeat Trust, which said almost 10,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the retention of the surgery in Belfast.

Sarah Quinlan, from the Children's Heartbeat Trust, said: "Our aim is to keep children's heart surgical services in Belfast, working as part of an all-Ireland network with Dublin, because sending all children who need interventional procedures for congenital heart disease to England is simply unacceptable."

She said the Children's Heartbeat Trust's position is that surgery must continue in Belfast as part of an all-Ireland network operating between Belfast and Dublin.

This would ensure the retention of the service and required a closer working relationship with Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin.

Joanne Clifford, whose son Liam, 2, was born with a heart defect that needed surgery, said: "The clinicians and surgical team at the Clark Clinic at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children have been first class and Liam enjoys life as any toddler does.

"The idea that we would have had to travel to England for this treatment is simply unimaginable - not only would this have placed huge emotional stress on our family, separating us from all family support and our son undergoing complex surgery many miles from home, but the financial pressure would also have been enormous."

Liam Turner, 15, from Gilnahirk, has been treated for a heart defect in Belfast.

"Having a heart defect means I get tired and breathless very easily. I wouldn't want to have to go to England for my treatment and be so far away from my friends, family and school," he said.

"Undergoing surgery is bad enough, but not being able to have it in Belfast would make it so much worse."

The group plans to hold a series of meetings across Northern Ireland in September and October.

Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in Northern Ireland, affecting more than 250 babies a year.

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