A Banbridge mother says her family is among hundreds left in limbo after international experts recommended children’s cardiac surgery at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital service be moved to Dublin.
Judith McKee, from Maryville, shared her concerns with the Leader after former Health Minister Edwin Poots revealed The International Working Group’s (IWG) recommendation last week.
The IWG reached its conclusion because of an insufficient number of patients in Belfast.
Judith’s youngest daughter Grace, two, 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.
The family have remained upbeat and have battled through the ups and downs of Grace’s illness but are concerned by this latest development.
Judith, who held a charity event ‘Grace’s coffee morning’ in Banbridge Town Hall on Saturday to raise money for the Children’s Heartbeat Trust said: “They are trying to say that there is not enough children to warrant the service in Belfast but Northern Ireland is a small place.
“Belfast has a specialised unit for other conditions so why not keep the unit for heart conditions?
“Is the cardiology team in Belfast going to be able to keep their skills up and will we have to go to Dublin for every quarterly review on Grace’s heart?”
She continued: “Having to travel to Dublin and possibly to England incurs expenses and while the Belfast Trust does cover these you have to wait on them and this isn’t always practical.”
“Families are often being torn apart when parents have to travel with sick child and leave other children behind.
“Myself and my husband, Aron have always said if we have to travel to Dublin then we would be fine with that, but what we don’t want to happen is to be put on a plane and sent to England.”
Judith said she is encouraged by Upper Bann MP David Simpson commitment to finding a resolve.
David has been an “absolute rock,” she explained.
Talking on the issue Mr Simpson said: “This news has added to the fear factor within families who have children and young people affected by congenital heart disease.
“These families have been on a long journey with regards to their campaign and fight for the retention of this service in Belfast.
“I personally have to commend those within my own constituency who have been so pro-active in their lobby and I would say to them today I remain committed to getting a resolve to this situation and ensuring that the children affected are right at the very heart of the final decision making process.”
“I want to see a service that is fit for purpose and one that saves lives.
“I have in the past worked closely with the former Health Minister in this regard and I will continue to work with the newly appointed Minister Jim Wells MLA.
“I have requested an urgent meeting with the minister to discuss this matter and to relay the concerns families within my constituency have raised.”
UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who has been a long-term supporter of the mum’s and dad’s of the Heartbeat Trust campaign said: “Banbridge certainly came out in force to support little Grace McKee, her parents Judith and Aron and their friends and family as they fight to keep children’s heart surgery in Northern Ireland.”
“Together their hard work resulted in the magnificent sum of £3,800 being raised. The most powerful campaigns are led by families who are fighting for their children. I have been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mummies and daddies as they campaign to keep children’s heart surgery in Northern Ireland.”
She added; “The new Health Minister Jim Wells, who joined us during the morning, told us all that I was the first to write to him on this issue and on behalf of my constituents to ask for a meeting which I hope will take place soon. Together we need to continue the campaign to keep surgery in Northern Ireland - avoiding arduous and potentially dangerous journeys to either Dublin or across to mainland UK.”