Poots has an impossible choice
Published 07/11/2013 | 01:30
The expectations of patients and the medical realities are often incompatible. Patients understandably want the best possible facilities as close to home as possible. But specialisation of complex medical procedures mean that centres of excellence can only be provided on a regional or, even, national basis.
That is the case with paediatric cardiac surgery in Northern Ireland. While the service provided is safe there are not enough procedures being done annually to make it sustainable and the situation will worsen shortly when one of the two surgeons who perform operations on children leaves his job.
That will pose a difficult problem for Health Minister Edwin Poots. No one will envy his agonising choice, to get rid of paediatric cardiac services here entirely leaving desperately ill patients to travel to Dublin or England for surgery or finding some compromise solution.
His priority must be to ensure that patients get the best possible treatment and care and that will mean having access to properly resourced and staffed facilities.
But he cannot fail to be moved by the story of Jenny Swann in this newspaper today. She has sat by the bedside of her seriously ill baby son who has known no other home than hospitals in Belfast and Birmingham. Jenny and her husband Robin are lucky to have the support of family members to allow them to spend so much time with the child, especially in England after surgery. Many other families would not be so fortunate.
The closure of all children's cardiac surgery facilities here would put a huge additional burden on families who would have to spend long periods either away from home or away from their ill children.
Mr Poots should look carefully at the possibility of retaining some expertise in Belfast, even if it seems inevitable that the most advanced treatments will only be available in England or the Republic. That would take heed of some of the devotion shown by parents like Jenny and Robin.