Rally in support of children's heart services held in Belfast

Rally to retain children's heart services in Northern Ireland MLAs joined campaigners at the rally to retain children's heart services in Northern Ireland

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Campaigners have held a rally in Belfast to ask that cardiac services for children in Northern Ireland to be protected.

A public consultation on the future of children's heart surgery ended in December.

Campaigners want Health Minister Edwin Poots to save and enhance paediatric cardiac services.

Mr Poots is expected to announce his decision at the end of February.

Families, clinicians, trades unions and politicians gathered at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast ahead of the rally on Saturday.

Sarah Quinlan, from the Children's Hearbeat Trust, a charity which provides support to parents and families of children with heart disease in Northern Ireland, said any reduction or loss to the service would have a devastating impact.

"The alternative is that 200-plus families would have to receive surgery or interventions in another centre outside of Northern Ireland which is quite simply unimaginable and unacceptable for families who would be isolated from the rest of their family support," she said.

The rally ended at the city centre where a number of MLAs were among those pledging their support.

Conal McDevitt from the SDLP said not allowing the centre to remain open and grow would be a "disaster" for children in Northern Ireland.

"It would put us at a severe disadvantage and it would be dangerous. I would appeal to the minister not to do that," he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said other services could be affected.

"If this element of surgery is lost other specialist surgery which is related to it may also be endangered and we may lose full services in Belfast for our children," he said.

"We believe it's vital that the full services remain in Belfast for the benefit of everyone."

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