Heart surgery move to Dublin confirmed

Grace and Judith McKee
Grace and Judith McKee

A Banbridge mother whose young daughter has had two major heart operations says confirmation that children’s heart surgery in Northern Ireland will end, is ‘disappointing but not surprising.’

The Health Minister, Jim Wells, had already signalled his support for the proposal last October which will see operations move to Dublin.

Judith McKee’s youngest daughter Grace, three, was born with Pulmonary Atresia with a VSD, a heart condition which means that blood cannot get from the right ventricle of her heart into her lungs.

Judith commented: “It’s good to know that a decision has finally been made. Future parents now know where they stand.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising and it could have been much worse. Services could have been moved to England.

“The independent working group made quite a few recommendations and I believe that Minister Wells has agreed to all of those recommendations happening.

“As long as all that is carried out the future looks bright for children’s heart services in Northern Ireland.

“Pre and post-operation services are already good but need to be improved.

“I would be worried that all of the money would be spent in Dublin, and Belfast would be left out.

“Getting it all set up has to happen really quickly and we need to get some clarification on whether Dublin have the capacity to take children from Belfast at very short notice.”

While scheduled surgical services will cease in Belfast, a cardiac centre of excellence will be set up in the city to provide diagnostics and after-care to northern-based children with congenital heart defects.

The single all-Ireland surgical unit will be based in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital at Crumlin.

UUP health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said that the minister’s announcement simply confirmed for parents “what they already knew in their hearts”.

She said: “The service in Belfast has been cut long before sufficient capacity in Our Lady’s Hospital outside Dublin has been created.

“It is a scandalous situation that for the next 18 months the vast majority of children from Northern Ireland will have no choice but to continue to travel to England.

“The UUP would have supported change if it was genuinely proven that it was in the interests of the patients.

“Unfortunately however this entire process has been so bungled that I have no confidence that the retention of some surgery in Belfast was ever genuinely considered.”