Mum fights on in campaign to save children’s heart surgery

Liam Clifford (3) and  mum Joanne. INLM12-225.
Liam Clifford (3) and mum Joanne. INLM12-225.

A LURGAN mum is fighting tooth and nail to save Northern Ireland’s children’s heart surgery.

To back up the Children’s Heartbeat campaign Joanne Clifford used a Freedom of Information request to gain access to clinicians and health organisations responses to a recent survey into the future of the children’s heart surgery in Belfast.

Joanne asked the Health and Social Care Board for specific responses to a recent consultation on the future development of paediatric cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology for the population of Northern Ireland.

The consultation came about in response to the Safe & Sustainable review carried out last year by the HSSB. In August 2012 a review found the children’s heart surgery at the Royal wasn’t sustainable.

Joanne’s three-year-old son Liam was rushed to Belfast’s Children’s Hospital after it was discovered he had a hole in his heart six hours after he was born.

Joanne and her husband Gerard have the specialised children’s unit to thank for saving their son’s life and have given their full backing to the campaign to save the surgery.

Joanne said: “I wanted to find out exactly what the clinicians had to say because they are the ones who are dealing with kids day in, day out.

“If the surgery is removed from Belfast where do children with heart defects go for routine surgeries like getting their tonsils removed which require a specialised anaesthetist because of their heart conditions?

“If we remove the children’s cardiac surgery from Belfast, not only do we lose the facility, but we lose the specialists associated with it.

“It’s a scary prospect. Liam has at least another two operations to go through and it doesn’t bear thinking about where these will take place.”

Joanne added: “The response from the clinicians was very positive to come out and say that we need some kind of surgery to be retained in Belfast.”

Following Joanne’s FOI request she was passed 25 of the 647 submissions which fell under the definition of either being received from a clinician or health organisation. Joanne provided the ‘MAIL’ with a list of the relevant responses. We’ve included an edited summary of what some of the experts said:

Consultant Neonatalogists at the Royal said they are in favour of retaining some form of hybrid cardiac surgical service through developing links with Dublin which would enable local paediatric cardiologists to continue to perform interventional cardiological procedures within Belfast when required urgently.

The Fetal Medicine team gave their support to the same option.

Dr Brian McCrossan, specialist trainee in paediatric cardiology in Northern Ireland: “If we lose cardiac surgery we will never get it back and this will be the start of a slow creep which will lead to Northern Ireland having no tertiary medical centre.”

The Paediatric Neurology Department said: “We are extremely concerned that if interventional cardiology and cardiac surgery is lost to Belfast that this would be to the detriment of the cardiology service and its ability to attract top class consultants in the future.”

Medical Staff Committee at the Royal commented: “It would appear that for paediatric cardiac surgery the safety and accessibility of the existing service are to be sacrificed on the altar of potential un-sustainability and this could then become a template for many other similar paediatric specialities.”