Northern Ireland children's heart service not sustainable
A review of children's congenital heart services in Northern Ireland has found that it is no longer sustainable.
About 90 heart surgery operations are carried out each year by the Belfast Health Trust with a further 40 taking place in either England or Dublin.
The health board is now tasked with carrying out a consultation on how best to cater for these children elsewhere.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said all options should be considered, including an all-Ireland service.
If that is not suitable children will have to travel to England.
As standards for the highly complex service are rising across the UK, Northern Ireland must prove that it too can provide the surgical cover required.'Disappointing'
While the review found no immediate safety concerns, it concluded that the service for children within the Belfast Health Trust was no longer sustainable.
The Children's Heartbeat Trust has described the development as "disappointing and worrying".
Speaking on behalf of about 1,000 families who use the service, Sarah Quinlan said that if the review found the service was safe, there was no reason it could not remain up and running.
Following a meeting with the Public Health Agency, the trust told the BBC that if the service closed at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, more families would have no other option but to travel to England.
"This is really difficult for the child and the entire family. It involves huge costs and upheaval," Ms Quinlan said.
She said an all-Ireland centre would be ideal and that would be an agreed option.