Mum of tot Jake Flaherty who died from heart defect vows to continue fight for cardiac unit
The mother of a baby born with a heart defect who died aged two has vowed to continue fighting for an all-Ireland surgical cardiac unit.
The call came after campaigners voiced serious concerns over delays in establishing the vital congenital heart service - a year after plans were announced.
It is estimated around 120 sick children are still being flown outside Northern Ireland every year for heart surgery.
Last March, the then health minister Jim Wells formally accepted proposals for a single, all-Ireland children's heart surgery centre based in Dublin. It meant surgical services at the RVH would end. However, the Dublin unit cannot currently cope with demand.
Planning approval for the new National Children's Hospital in the Republic was granted yesterday but the Department of Health said all urgent patients will not be transferred to Dublin until the end of 2017 and all elective patients by the end of 2018.
Julie Flaherty, from Portadown, has been campaigning with the Children's Heartbeat Trust since her son was born with a congenital heart defect in 2011. Jake, died aged just two years old, but received his treatment in Northern Ireland.
She said the promises that have been made by politicians have not been fulfilled. "I made a promise to my son that I would not let this go," she said. "I'm so disappointed it has taken so long. This began in 2012 when Jake was still here. We had to take it at their word that this would be delivered but it breaks my heart that there are families who have to get in a plane to follow their vulnerable baby and fly to England, many without emotional and financial support."
A DHSSPS spokesman said:"It is anticipated the plan will be approved by June of this year. In addition to maintaining the current transfer of emergency patients to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, the plan envisages completing on a phased basis the transfer of all urgent patients to OLCHC by the end of 2017 and all elective patients by the end of 2018."