There is no doubt that many parents would want paediatric cardiac services including surgery retained in Northern Ireland. Obviously that would be much more convenient for those parents with seriously ill children who require major operations and lengthy stays in hospital. No doubt they will be encouraged somewhat by the decision of Health Minister Edwin Poots to carry out a comprehensive review of services beginning in January.
That means services will be retained for the next six months while the review is ongoing.
And Mr Poots is on record as saying that he would like to see an all-Ireland solution to the problem, with an integrated network involving Belfast and Dublin. That is an option that makes sense on many levels. It would ensure the critical mass of work needed to attract leading paediatric cardiology specialists and to allow them to develop their skills through an intensive workload.
It would also be a preferable option to integrating services between Belfast and England which would require a lot of personal disruption for parents of ill children.
A Belfast-Dublin service would be much more convenient.
Of course this is all speculation until the review of services is completed. Having taken a considerable time to get to this stage it would be unfortunate to raise parents' hopes only to dash them midway through next year.
However, personal considerations must be secondary to the need to create a first class cardiac service for children. Ultimately, it is the quality of the service not the location which is of paramount importance. It is good that Mr Poots has brought in specialists from outside the NHS to examine current service provision. The review team will have no inherent bias and should concentrate solely on what is best practice and how it can be achieved for Northern Ireland children.
Now that this issue has dragged on for quite a considerable period, let us hope that the minister will make a speedy decision once the review team has reported and that the present cloud of uncertainty is dispelled.