The mother of a toddler treated for a serious heart condition has described a Stormont consultation about potentially abolishing child cardiac services in Northern Ireland as a "farce", after it was revealed it was not endorsed by relevant professional health bodies.
Following a national review of cardiac services in 2011, Health Minister Edwin Poots announced a separate review for Northern Ireland.
It stated that guidelines used to assess the need for the services were "endorsed by professional bodies".
However, correspondence between the organisations and a group fighting to retain cardiac services has shown this was not the case.
A review of children's congenital heart services at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital had found that it was no longer sustainable.
Coleraine mother Pamela McCormick (33), whose four-year-old daughter Samantha suffers from a series of heart issues, said the situation was "becoming ridiculous".
"It definitely is becoming a farce and I'm delighted that this has come to light," she said.
"There are families which have had surgery and may need more in the future.
"My daughter had her operation when she was just 11 days old and it was tough enough an hour away from home.
"It would be unimaginable being in England for that length of time, without my family."
According to Sarah Quinlan of the Children's Heartbeat Trust – which has been fighting to retain Northern Ireland's child cardiac services – each of the main bodies the group had written to confirmed that the guidelines were not endorsed as best practice in Northern Ireland.
She said support for the guidelines only applied to England and Wales.
Ms McCormick said she now wanted those responsible to "admit they made a mistake".
"I feel like I'm losing all faith in the system, it's like living in a Third World country having to fight for things like this.
"She wouldn't have survived without her surgery in Belfast 2008 – keeping it is very important."
Families want to retain surgical services in Belfast, whereas other options include sending children to England or setting up an all-Ireland service.
Ms Quinlan said families with children born with congenital heart disease had reacted with dismay and disappointment following the latest revelations.
"On a range of issues, including abortion and care for the elderly, our Health Minister has made it clear that different circumstances apply to Northern Ireland, and that he will not impose a one-size-fits-all approach," she said.
Last night Mr Poots said that while a working group drew on standards "developed through the 'safe and sustainable' process, these were amended to reflect the specific needs of the Northern Ireland population".
"I am committed to the delivery of paediatric cardiac services (PCCS) which are safe and sustainable and which deliver the best outcomes for children," he said.
"Following analysis of the responses to the consultation document on the future PCCS model of care, the working group is currently developing a draft framework to determine a preferred option for the future commissioning of the service."
Edwin Poots asked the Health and Social Care Board to look at the future of children's heart surgery services. The decision to potentially abolish services came following an external report on child cardiac services which said Belfast was not sustainable. While the local paper states those guidelines were endorsed by the relevant medical bodies in the UK, it has emerged those organisations believed Northern Ireland was being treated as a separate case.