Cross-border co-operation could keep heart service local

ULSTER Unionist Health spokesperson and South Down MLA John McCallister has called upon the Health Minister to put the needs of children and young people ahead of spending reductions in vital areas of his Department.

The local representative was speaking after an external report on Paediatric Congenital Cardiac Services in Belfast highlighted that the current level of provision was supposedly not sustainable in the longer term.

Mr McCallister said,“The health service is currently under immense financial strain and the situation has not been helped by a number of successive unsympathetic Finance Ministers who simply did not consider additional spending to meet growing demands to be a priority.

“Nevertheless we need to remember that when we are talking about reduced health services it can be about much more than simply closing buildings or cutting hours; it can literally mean life or death.

“I welcome the publication of this week’s report into PCCS provision as I believe it to be extremely important that the Department retains a firm knowledge of where exactly its resources are going and the impact which they are having.

“Whilst the report may have claimed that services are unsustainable in the longer-term, I do have to question why the health Minister appears to be so adamant that this automatically has to mean a reduction in service provision.

“Yes, the service may be financially unsustainable but that is only because of the low demand for it. “Surely there are enough people within the Health Service with vision and imagination to ensure that services could continue in Belfast in partnership with services in the Republic?

“Safety is obviously of paramount importance but the report itself explicitly found no immediate safety concerns presented by current arrangements so there are real concerns that any proposed closure of Belfast based service provision is nothing more than a misguided and ill-informed money saving measure.

“If services are radically changed, even moved to an all-island basis as the Minister has himself mooted, this decision will put many families in an extremely difficult position.

“Learning that your child is seriously ill is traumatic enough without families being expected to uproot to somewhere out of the country and away from the natural support base of friends and family. “The Ulster Unionist Party is deeply concerned about the statement and will be doing all it can to ensure that child cardiac services are retained in Northern Ireland.”