Community puts ‘hands up’ to support children’s heart services
LOCAL councillors have given their backing to a campaign to safeguard the future of paediatric heart surgery services at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Antrim councillors, including Adrian Watson, Paul Michael, Mervyn Rea, Trevor Clarke, and Noel Maguire were in attendance at a public meeting held at Antrim Forum on Thursday night.
Over 150 members of the public were in attendance at the first of a series of planned public meeting to outline concerns at the potential closure of heart surgery services, and hear at first hand the devastating effect closure would have.
The launch of the campaign and petition follows the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Edwin Poots’ announcement on August 1 that the future of paediatric heart surgery services at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is under review following recommendations made by the UK Safe and Sustainable Team.
Since the announcement was made, thousands of people have signed an online petition calling for the retention of paediatric heart surgery in Belfast and many more did so at the meeting on Thursday night in Antrim.
Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in Northern Ireland with over 250 births each year.
Speaking at the event, Sarah Quinlan, Executive Officer of Children’s Heartbeat Trust, said: “[This] is the first in a series of meetings across Northern Ireland in our campaign to ensure paediatric cardiac surgery is retained at the Clark Clinic in Belfast. I am delighted to see so many people here and it vital that your voices are heard. I would urge everyone here tonight, and all those who wish to see surgery retained to write to your local MLA, the Minister for Health and to attend as many of our public meetings as possible.”
Templepatrick mum Katie Boyd, Chair of the Antrim Parent’s Group, said: “When my son Ollie was first born he needed a live-saving emergency operation.
“Without being able to access that life-saving surgery in Belfast he would have had to travel to a centre elsewhere in the UK and may not have survived.
“Ollie was born in the Ulster Hospital and I was unable to travel with him to the Royal Victoria Hospital – that means if he’d travelled to England would have been days or weeks before I’d seen my newborn son.”
Local councillor Adrian Watson said he was ‘humbled’ to hear the stories shared on Thursday night.
“This decision to close paediatric heart surgery services is coming from bean counters and doesn’t take into consideration the human cost,” Cllr. Watson said.
He added: “This is all about saving money when it should be about saving lives.
“I don’t see how sending a child by air ambulance to England for heart surgery is cost effective, never mind the toll it takes on the family.
“Families have to fly over to England, stay in hotels, while they’re children are in hospital. Then, they’re just expected to fly home on a commercial flight. How is that safe?”
Cllr. Watson added that first and foremost, the children’s heart surgery services should remain.
“That’s the most important thing, and then, political views aside, we have to look at an all Ireland strategy in considering the options of instead sending children to Dublin for treatment.”
His party colleague Paul Michael shared similar views and commented: “There’s a big difference in putting a young child on an air ambulance to Birmingham with their family following behind, than sending a child down to Dublin, just over a two hour drive away.”
But, he added, first and foremost services in Northern Ireland should be “ringfenced”.
“I’ve no issue with a north-south service, but before that should even be considered, services at the Royal should be protected,” Cllr. Michael said.
He added: “I thought we came from a caring society. This is clearly something which hasn’t been taken on board by those who’ve put this out for consultation.
“What I would say to those behind these plans is this, before you make any decision, or indeed before you even consider making a decision, ask yourself what if it was your child?”
Cllr. Michael referred to a lady whose child was taken to England for an operation.
“She had to get a flight over herself and make her own way to the hospital,” Cllr. Michael said.
He added: “As she was making her journey, she was getting phone calls from the hospital - how pathetic is that.
“I would really like to see how the Health Minister would explain closing this service.
“One life lost as a result of these plans is one life too many.”
Cllr. Trevor Clarke was also in attendance and said there had been a “passionate plea” to save the service.
He also was supportive of an all-Ireland service and said it could be of “mutual benefit”.
“We’re talking two hours down the road rather than the ordeal of an air ambulance and the family having to follow behind,” Cllr. Clarke added.
Sarah Quinlan added: “The closure of paediatric heart surgery in Belfast would be devastating for children suffering from congenital heart disease, their families, and the resulting deskilling would put at risk long term the current world class service available at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
“Being forced to travel to England will mean the loss of family support for young children, huge pressure on wider family units as well as increased financial strain.
“As the most common birth defect among children in Northern Ireland, it is vital that people from across the region are aware of this issue.
“This meeting is the first of a series of meetings across Northern Ireland where parents and children will be spelling out the difficulties they face if paediatric cardiac surgery is stopped in Northern Ireland.
“The UK Safe and Sustainable report clarifies that the current surgical provision in Belfast is totally safe – it is our position that surgery must continue in Belfast as part of an all-Ireland network operating between Belfast and Dublin.
“This will ensure the retention of the service and requires a closer working relationship with Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin.”
Further public meetings will take place at: Omagh – Tuesday, September 11 – Hospital Road Community Centre – 7pm; Coleraine – Thursday, September 13 – Coleraine Leisure Centre – 7pm; Bangor – Tuesday, September 18 - Marquis Hall, Castle Park – 7pm; Derry – Thursday, September 20 – Derry City Hotel – 7pm; Enniskillen – Tuesday, September 28 – Lakeland Forum - 8pm; Dungannon – Thursday, September 27 – Dungannon Leisure Centre – 8pm; Belfast – Tuesday, October 2 – Clifton House – 7.30pm; Newry – Thursday, October 4 – Sean Hollywood Arts Centre – 7.30pm; Lisburn – Tuesday, October 9 – Lagan Valley Island – 7pm.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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