Belfast children's heart operation services decision imminent
The Health Minister is expected to make a decision over the future of children's heart services in Belfast within the next month.
The public consultation on the future of paediatric heart surgery ended over a year ago.
Heart operations for children are still taking place in the Royal Victoria Hospital. But there are restrictions on the numbers receiving surgery with complex diagnoses being transferred mainly to Birmingham Children's Hospital in England.
Edwin Poots is yet to announce his decision on whether services will remain in Belfast, be shared with Dublin or move to England.
Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in children born in Northern Ireland with an average of 250 children per year born with the condition.
Roughly a third of these children will require open heart surgery or other interventional procedures.
About 90 heart surgery operations are carried out each year by the Belfast Health Trust with a further 40 taking place either in England or Dublin.
There was speculation last night that diagnostic work will be carried out in Belfast for Northern Ireland and the border counties, with operations being carried out in Dublin.
In a statement to the BBC, a spokesperson for Mr Poots said the departments of health in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic were still exploring the potential for developing a two-centre paediatric children's cardiac service surgical model within the island of Ireland.
Sarah Quinlan of the Children's Heartbeat Trust said the issue had "been badly handled from the start".
Ms Quinlan said: "We remain hopeful that the minister can still maintain a safe cardiac and surgical service for children in Northern Ireland."