Northern Ireland

Trauma of man whose facial operation was cancelled seven times

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Media captionBBC Newsline's Marie-Louise Connolly reports.

The family of a man with severe learning difficulties whose operation has been cancelled seven times say they feel let down by the health service.

David Haddock, 35, from east Belfast, is awaiting plastic surgery for facial scars.

His family said he could not understand why the hospital keep cancelling.

In a statement, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) said some cases were assessed as clinically more urgent than others.

It said that, regrettably, choices had to be made but they were working to address this.

For David, it meant that on several occasions, he got a call on the morning of the scheduled operation to tell him a hospital bed was no longer available. The operation was cancelled seven times in as many months, sometimes on the very day that it was due to happen.

Speaking to the BBC, David asked that his badly scarred face be shown on television as he wanted people to know what he is suffering. Aware that his speech is also slurred - he asked that the BBC broadcast his voice.

"I am not happy that someone else got the bed, I'm not happy, I want to get it done soon, I really need to get it done today," he said.

When Mr Haddock was three years old, he was in a house fire that killed his mother and his grandmother. He survived, but his body is badly burned.

He has already received skin grafts to his arms, but his face remains disfigured. While he will always carry scars he believes that surgeons will be able to give him eyebrows and correct the shape of his nose.

"They laugh at me out on the street, they call me names, 'bear man'. It's very hurtful. I know I'm not handsome but I could look better than this," he said.

Despite his learning difficulties David is fully aware of what happened to his family and refers to his aunt Edna Williams, who raised him as 'mum'.

From his home off the Newtownards Road, David appealed to the Belfast Health Trust to perform the operation.

"They think they can treat me like this after waiting so long because I can't speak properly. But I still understand - I want the doctors to help me," he said.

David's aunt said the family had received seven appointments from the Belfast Health Trust which had all been cancelled. All of the letters apologised for the inconvenience but Ms Williams said their apologies now sound "empty and meaningless".

Among the reasons for cancelling the operation were that more urgent cases needed to be admitted. Another letter quoted "unforeseen circumstances", whilst the latest describes "constraints on surgical beds".

David's aunt said that while she recognised there were always more urgent cases, after seven months her nephew could not be expected to wait much longer.

"It's really disappointing and is upsetting me and David," she said.

"For me, because I have to break the news to him and he never takes it well. He accuses me of not allowing him to go into hospital which of course isn't the case. It's really hard for him to understand that the bed has been given to someone else."

Image caption Bad news: David Haddock and Edna Williams with the trust's letters

Ms Williams said his case also highlighted an inadequate appointment system.

"Last November David had been given an appointment to be admitted on the 21st at 11:00 GMT. So, as usual, he got ready. The day before we got a phone call to say it was cancelled. Then at 17:00 GMT, another call to say if he was able to be fast he could come in. Then an hour and a half after that call, another one came to say the operation was cancelled again. He threw his hospital bag against the wall - a bag that had been packed since August. Where is the efficiency in that?"

In a statement, the Belfast Trust said it could not comment on individual cases.

However it said there were times when patients were assessed as clinically more urgent than others.

"The clinical team within the Plastics & Burns Unit also manage patients who have major burn injuries or suspected cancers. As a result, planned operations or procedures have to be cancelled and re-arranged at short notice to try and deal with these more urgent cases. The medical team have to make choices regarding which patients can have their treatment and when," the statement said.

"The trust recognises that every name on the waiting list represents a person waiting for treatment. Unfortunately the plastic surgery service in Belfast Health and Social Care Trust does not have enough capacity to treat all of the patients referred into the service and requiring treatment.

"Regrettably this means that choices have to be made and patients may have to be cancelled and agreed treatment times slip. In response to this shortage of capacity, the BHSCT and the Health and Social Care Board have been working together to address the long waits that some patients have experienced."

David's MLA, Michael Copeland called on health minister Edwin Poots to use whatever influence he has to ensure that David Haddock gets his operation.

"It's what I want the health minister to do and I believe it's what the health minister would like to do. The difficulty is it is not getting done and the responsibility for that lies with the minister," he said.

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