By Stephen McVey

The proposed closure of childrens’ heart disease services could see North Belfast families being forced to travel to England for treatment.

The publication of the Safe & Sustainable Review into pediatric congenital heart services in Northern Ireland has worried parents of children who suffer from heart disease.

Sarah Quinlan, Executive Officer, Children’s Heartbeat Trust said that the report signals the closure of the Belfast service, which could force North Belfast families to travel to England for pediatric surgery and other treatment.

“The report introduces uncertainty into the future provision of congenital heart disease services locally. The review team has concluded that pediatric cardiac surgery is not sustainable in Belfast and should cease. This is a very worrying development for our parents in North Belfast.

Samantha Marshall, from Downview Drive, just off the Antrim Road, has a two-year-old son who suffers from Tetralogy of Fallot, a type of congenital heart defect.

“Having experienced the initial shock and trauma of diagnosis, families are now being told that their only option may be to travel to England for treatment. This will add to the distress and discomfort already being experienced by children and families,” she said.

Samantha is originally from England but moved here with her husband at the time, who is from North Belfast.

“If Mr Poots goes through with plans to remove services from Belfast, I will move back to England,” she said.

“It would be a no brainer because I will not risk my child having to fly to England in an emergency situation. There has been fantastic support from the heart clinic because of the on-the-spot support they can provide. The whole experience has been exhausting and these changes would bring more emotional and financial stress,” she said.

On average, 120 pediatric heart surgeries and 40 interventional catheterizations for congenital heart disease are performed in Northern Ireland each year.

Health Minister Poots has tried to calm fears and states that changes will be announced in early 2013.

“At this stage, I have not made any decisions on how children’s heart surgery will be provided and the criteria and service specification will be subject to public consultation.

“I fully appreciate that parents and children living with congenital cardiac problems may be anxious about any potential changes and how these might impact on the care provided to them. I want to reassure families that my aim is to ensure a safe, sustainable service into the future,” he said.

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