No life-changing operation for toddler Bella, because Royal Victoria hospital hasn't got a bed for her
A severely disabled toddler has missed out on a badly-needed operation that could save her life because no bed is available for her at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Little Bella Collins was due to undergo surgery today to remove her enlarged tonsils, as she suffers from a condition that cuts off her airways as she sleeps.
The courageous two-year-old was also diagnosed with spina bifida before she was born, meaning she can not walk and will need a wheelchair her entire life.
In addition, she suffers from hydrocephalus, known as 'water on the brain', the rare genetic condition called Mosaic Turner's syndrome, and epilepsy.
Bella, too, has problems with her blood sugar levels, which are constantly dropping.
On top of all this, Bella has suspected sleep apnoea, and until she has her operation in Belfast everything else is on hold.
Sleep apnoea cuts off Bella's airways when she falls into a deep sleep and is potentially fatal.
Surgeons were ready to carry out the operation today, but the lack of a high-dependency bed for afterwards meant the procedure had to be cancelled.
That delay means Bella, who is due to celebrate her third birthday on March 8, cannot be treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London for her other conditions.
She has spent every night since February sleeping in Altnagelvin Hospital near her home in Londonderry so that doctors can monitor her just in case her breathing stops completely.
Bella's mother, Amanda Dougherty, said she is at her wits' end with worry.
She is angry that her daughter's treatment in Great Ormond Street and at the Royal is being held up because there is no bed available.
"Watching your daughter's breathing cut out for between seven and 10 seconds every 30 seconds is extremely distressing –especially on top of every thing else Bella has to put up with," said Ms Dougherty.
"When we found out there was a space booked for her in the theatre we were so relieved.
"But that didn't last long because then we were told that we couldn't take her to Belfast because there was no high dependency bed available for her when she would come out of theatre.
"We cannot praise Altnagelvin Hospital enough. They have been constantly on the phone trying to get Bella sorted, and the reality is Bella is taking up a bed in Altnagelvin that some other child could have.
"The only reason she is in Altnagelvin is because it would be too dangerous to let Bella sleep at home, so every night she goes to sleep in the hospital.
"But if she had this problem treated, not only could she come home again, she could also get back on track with the rest of her treatment at Great Ormond Street and at the Royal."
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Health Trust said: "We are sorry that any child should have to wait for surgery.
"However, it is paramount that we ensure a safe service.
"Children with very complex needs sometimes require a high-dependency or intensive care bed for a short time immediately after surgery.
"HDU beds are part of the paediatric intensive care unit which has recently increased from 8 to 12 beds and these are used according to clinical need.
"Our staff are in close contact with the family as well as colleagues in Altnagelvin Hospital and will reschedule her surgery at the earliest possible opportunity."
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"Bella's needs are so complex, all her treatment is carried out at two hospitals.
"Great Ormond Street need to get a blood profile done when Bella is well but because she isn't sleeping and isn't feeding right that can't be done.
"Bella is also waiting on an orthopaedic operation and physiotherapy – but again that can't go ahead until this is sorted.
"It is just a vicious circle. If we had been able to go ahead with the operation to help her breathing when she is sleeping, the rest would have been progressed too.
"But right now we have no idea when her appointment will be rescheduled – and so the nightmare goes on."