Concerns as heart unit set for closure

Pacemaker Press 8/4/2013 Liam Clifford with his parents Gerald and Joanne ,  As Children's Heartbeat Trust attend  the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings on Monday  along with families with children with congenital heart disease from across Northern Ireland, where MLAs from all parties will sign a pledge to protect the safety of children and adults with congenital heart disease, through continued surgical provision at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/4/2013 Liam Clifford with his parents Gerald and Joanne , As Children's Heartbeat Trust attend the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings on Monday along with families with children with congenital heart disease from across Northern Ireland, where MLAs from all parties will sign a pledge to protect the safety of children and adults with congenital heart disease, through continued surgical provision at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

“I hope no kids lose their lives as a result of this move” - that was the reaction of one local parent to the announcement the children’s heart surgery in Belfast is to close.

On Tuesday Health Minister Jim Wells gave his backing to recommendations to close the facility at the Royal and opt for one-surgery in Dublin for all of Ireland.

Lynsey and Leah Steele.

Lynsey and Leah Steele.

Campaigners for the unit now feel the emphasis should be on ensuring lives are not lost while a new network is put in place.

Lynsey Steele, whose daughter Leah was rushed to the cardiac unit from Craigavon after she was born, said: “I have to say this is very upsetting news for parents, having to travel to another country for your child to have heart surgery.

“I can’t even begin to imagine how parents who don’t drive would get to Dublin if their child was rushed there after birth. For me and my partner it was hard enough getting from Craigavon to the Clark Clinic at two in the morning.”

She added: “The bottom line is that this is a disgrace, and I hope no kids lose their lives through this move.”

Gerald and Joanne Clifford owe their son Liam’s life to the specialist unit in Belfast.

Gerald said: “It’s not the outcome I would have favoured but if this is the way it’s going to be, they need to act quickly to prevent things getting worse.

“Some questions from three years ago still remain, for example what is the care pathway for children who need heart surgery?

“This has to be the highest priority for the health minister. How will it function day in, day out.”

He added: “The minister said it would take 18 months for this network to be up and running. Belfast will be in effect shutting down in April which leaves 12 months in between.

“What happens to children who require heart surgery during those 12 months. We’re taking children out of a perfectly good centre and putting them into a network which is already under pressure.”

Gerald continued: “There’s been a big emphasis on the involvement of families. Another 12 week consultation is due to take place with all major groups.

“It could be the case that this consultation is still running after April when there is no longer a children’s heart surgery in Belfast.

“For me it’s just a further delay. The decision has been taken. If this is the only option then the important thing is to get the details nailed down and get it implemented.”

Gerald didn’t take much issue with Mr Wells’ announcement given that he was backing the recommendation of international experts. He did however point out that the children’s heart surgery had been in much better shape three years ago than it is today.

“They chipped away and chipped away at the service until it became no longer viable. The worry is, the same people have been tasked with building it back up again.”