A campaign to save children’s heart services in Northern Ireland is under way with a series of public meetings to take place in the coming weeks.
The Children’s Heartbeat Trust campaign follows a review of children’s congenital heart services at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital which found that they are no longer sustainable.
Parents who fear Northern Ireland could now be left without the specialised heart services that their children need have backed the campaign launched at Stormont yesterday.
Joanne Clifford is the mother of two-year-old Liam, who suffers from a heart defect. She said the idea of being forced to travel to England for treatment was “simply unimaginable”.
“When we were told that Liam had a heart defect which needed urgent surgery we were devastated,” Ms Clifford said.
“The clinicians and surgical team at the Clark Clinic at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children have been first class since then and today Liam enjoys life as any toddler does.
“Not only would this (travelling to England) 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.”
Some 10,000 people have now signed an online petition calling for the retention of paediatric heart surgery in Belfast.
Speaking at the launch, Sarah Quinlan of the Children’s Heartbeat Trust said the closure of services in Belfast would be devastating for young patients and their families.
“We would say to the minister to consider the impact his decision will have on the day-to-day lives of those suffering. The removal of the services is not acceptable,” she added.
“The resulting de-skilling would put at long-term risk the current world class service that is available at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
“Being forced to travel to England will mean the loss of family support for young children and huge pressure on wider family units, as well as increased financial strain.”
Liam Turner (15), who is originally from New York, moved to Belfast shortly after he was treated for acquired heart disease.
He said that undergoing surgery was bad enough, but “not being able to have it in Belfast would make it so much worse”.
Around 90 child heart operations are carried out here annually.
Public meetings will begin at the Antrim Forum on September 6 — with a further nine scheduled across Northern Ireland.
Earlier this month Health Minister Edwin Poots asked the Health and Social Care Board to establish a working group to examine the future of children’s heart services at Belfast’s Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. This followed an external report on child cardiac services across the UK which said the service in Belfast — the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland — was not sustainable in the long-term.