The High Court has quashed a decision to axe cardiac surgery for children at a hospital in England in a move which raises serious questions over a review of services here, it has been claimed.
Health Minister Edwin Poots is considering the future of services for children with heart conditions in Northern Ireland.
It comes after a review raised concerns over future patient safety in Belfast.
As a result, Mr Poots is considering proposals which would include stopping all children's heart surgery in Northern Ireland.
This would mean seriously ill children from across Northern Ireland and their families having to travel to England or Dublin for life-saving treatments.
A similar review in England led to the decision to stop heart surgery at hospitals in Leeds, Leicester and London to focus at fewer, larger sites.
That decision was overturned yesterday.
A Children's Heartbeat Trust spokesman called the ruling "a victory for families and clinicians who have prioritised the safety of children".
He added: "Paediatric and surgical experts in Northern Ireland are clear that future provision should include surgical provision in Belfast as part of an all-island network and the minister has supported this. The Royal College of Surgeons stated only last July that surgery here is safe and it is worth remembering that no medical professional body has endorsed the Safe and Sustainable guidelines for Northern Ireland which health officials sought to impose."
Mr Poots said yesterday's ruling has no bearing on the current review happening here, adding: "The Northern Ireland review is therefore continuing as planned and I expect to reach a decision on the future commissioning of this service in the coming weeks."
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at London's High Court, yesterday said aspects of the Leeds consultations were "ill-judged".
But she stressed she was only quashing "one part" of the JCPCT decision so that there could be "reconsultation and reconsideration" over the Leeds closure.
Leeds is one of three units facing closure in the NHS review which aims to provide fewer but more efficient units.
In August last year the Health and Social Care Board published the findings of an independent review into children's congenital heart services at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. The review, led by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, examined the safety and sustainability of the service and concluded that the trust should stop carrying out children's heart surgery because of the small number of children treated at the hospital. Although the review in Northern Ireland was not part of the separate review of children's heart services in England, it was carried out by the same team.