MLAs sign pledge to retain congenital heart services
More than 80 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from across all the political parties have signed a pledge to keep congenital heart surgery in Northern Ireland.
The pledge, which was signed at Stormont, stated that they would vote against any move to remove the service from Belfast.
Earlier this month the minister Edwin Poots said he was working on finding a solution but that it was proving difficult.
Among the signatories were 18 members of the DUP.
The unit, which is based at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children, is under threat after a national review said that while it is safe there are not the number of surgical cases to sustain its long term future.
The health minister has clearly stated his commitment to finding a solution and has said repeatedly that he is aware of the huge obstacles facing those parents who are forced to travel to England with very sick children.
One of several options is an all-island service that would involve linking up with children's heart services in Dublin.
The event was organised by the Children's Heartbeat trust.
The charity's executive officer, Sarah Quinlan, said the pledge shows the "depth of support" for the many children now and in the future who will rely on this surgery.
"It is clear that any removal of surgery from Belfast would put at risk the lives of children born with critical congenital heart problems which are impossible to diagnose before birth," Ms Quinlan said.
"Also, the implications for other services, lack of 24/7 transport and the threat to the wider children's hospital mean that the future of this surgery must be secured through an all-island network operating between Dublin and Belfast and continued links with units in Britain.
"Clinical and paediatric experts were clear that future provision must include surgery in Belfast, and this view has been supported by the health minister, she added."
Families will take their pledge campaign to every constituency in Northern Ireland urging those MLAs who were unable to make the event to sign up.