A schoolboy who underwent life-saving surgery in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children days after he was born has branded a plan to move Northern Ireland's only paediatric heart service to Dublin as "sadistic".
Eoin Taylor (16) accused health chiefs of putting children's lives at risk and urged Health Minister Edwin Poots to ignore the plan.
Eoin Taylor was a runner-up in the Belfast Telegraph's Making The Difference awards Spirit of Youth category after he gathered 125,000 signatures in an online campaign to keep paediatric cardiac surgery services in Belfast. He also met Mr Poots last year to present his petition and make the case for saving the vital facility. But Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board has recommended operations for youngsters with birth defects should take place in the Republic. Eoin said that in future, children born with a congenital heart defect (CHD) will not have the same chance for survival as he did.
He said: "This recommendation is spitting in the graves of the CHD children who didn't make it. I want children in the future to have the same chance I did and I don't think it's fair, especially on the families.
"There's many babies that will be born with heart problems and they won't have enough time to travel all the way to Dublin for emergency treatment. They could be dead or really critical by the time they get to Dublin."
Whilst the recommendations have yet to be rubber-stamped, it is expected the Health Minister will back the board's recommendations and will announce his decision in the coming weeks.
If it is approved, then children who require heart surgery will be sent to to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin. The Republic's Health Minister also said he would approve the decision.
Eoin said: "I don't think a lot of people will support Mr Poots if he backs this stupid decision.
"I think Poots should arrange another meeting with parents and families and see what they prefer, and listen to them – hopefully that will help him make his final decision. It wouldn't be any use listening to the business people.
"As far as I'm concerned this isn't over yet and I will continue to fight this. There are many families who are fighting this and we feel like this campaign has made us one big family. We will fight this together."
Last year a consultation was launched after the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was deemed unsustainable due to the low numbers of patients being treated, 90 each year. Centres must perform a minimum of 400 children's surgical procedures each year to maintain skills, a review said, and the volume is decreasing. Support cardiology services in Northern Ireland will be enhanced.