Northern Ireland

Heart surgery ruling 'positive for Northern Ireland'

Surgeons at operating table

Campaigners who want children's heart surgery services to remain in Belfast have said they are delighted by a court ruling overturning an NHS decision to close a similar service in Leeds.

A High Court judge in London ruled that aspects of the consultation process were ill-judged.

These included a failure to make relevant information available.

The ruling is the second intervention from the judge.

Earlier, he also ruled that the process to close the children's heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary was legally flawed.

However, as only one part of the decision is quashed it leaves the door open for further consultation over the Leeds closure.

However, Sarah Quinlan from the Children's Heartbeat Trust in Northern Ireland said it was a positive move.

"Today's High Court ruling, which overturns the NHS decision to close paediatric heart surgery at Leeds Royal Infirmary, is a victory for families and clinicians who have prioritised the safety of children since this process began," she said.

"It is the same team who oversaw this discredited decision to close surgery at Leeds who visited Belfast last year and made similar recommendations for Northern Ireland."

The future of the service in Belfast is in jeopardy after a national review concluded that while the service is safe, it is not sustainable.

One hundred operations are performed each year in Northern Ireland, with a further 40 cases dealt with elsewhere.

While parents of sick children would prefer the unit, based at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to remain as it is, travelling to Dublin as opposed to England is seen as an acceptable alternative and one of eight options currently on the table.

'Consternation'

Last week, Health Minister Edwin Poots told the Stormont health committee that if he had agreed with recommendations suggested by officials it would have caused consternation.

He added that people should feel heartened that a final decision is still to be reached.

Reacting to Wednesday's move, Sarah Quinlan told the BBC that the process has been flawed from the start.

"The Royal College of Surgeons stated only last July that surgery here is safe and it is worth remembering that no medical professional body has endorsed the safe and sustainable guidelines for Northern Ireland which health officials sought to impose," she said.

"This entire episode begs the question as to why the Safe & Sustainable team were invited here in the first place.

"The Royal College of Surgeons review found no issues with the surgical provision, yet a team whose decision has now been overturned by the High Court were invited here based on guidelines which no medical professional body has endorsed for the region. "

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