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Fears grow for specialist children's unit at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital

By Victoria O'Hara

Parents with children facing cardiac surgery in Northern Ireland have been left "alarmed and frustrated" that the future of the life-saving service in Belfast remains uncertain.

Children's heart surgery at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) was thrown into further doubt yesterday by former Health Minister Edwin Poots – just hours before he was replaced by Jim Wells.

It was revealed in the Assembly a team of international experts recommended the service should move to Dublin as Belfast was not "sustainable". However, the full report– which was due to be published in June –has still not been released with parents now left in limbo for at least another month.

About 90 heart surgery operations are carried out each year by the Belfast Health Trust with a further 40 taking place in either England or Dublin.

One of the options considered was an all-Ireland service shared by Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin, and Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

The Children's Heartbeat Trust, which supported maintaining surgery at both Belfast and Dublin, has now called for the full report to be published.

If that option is agreed, Dublin surgeons would have to agree to travel to Belfast. The charity says if surgery is moved to Dublin, they need to know what system will be in place where a defect has not been diagnosed during pregnancy and an emergency cardiac situation arises at birth.

Sarah Quinlan, executive officer at the Children's Heartbeat Trust, said the full report now needs to be published.

"We want to know that all children with a congenital heart defect in Northern Ireland can access safe surgery and emergency surgery as they need it."

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann, whose son Evan underwent cardiac surgery, criticised the "part revelation".

"As a parent of a child who has undergone heart surgery in England, there are many details that we need to see clarified. There is real frustration," he said.


Fears over paediatric heart surgery services in Belfast escalated after the 2012 review. About 90 heart surgery operations are carried out each year by the Belfast Health Trust, 40 more take place in either England or Dublin. But the service here was said to be "unsustainable". A review team of US experts considered whether a two-centre service in Dublin and Belfast was feasible long-term.

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