LOUGHGALL parent Julie Greenaway will be taking to the streets of Belfast tomorrow (Saturday) as part of the ongoing campaign to save children’s heart surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Julie, whose son Lewis (5) was born with only half a functioning heart and has required three life-saving operations, will be joined on the rally by her three children.
The continuance of heart operations at the Royal’s Clark Clinic was thrown into doubt several months ago after a review said it would not be sustainable to carry out such procedures in Belfast in the future, and a consultation was launched.
The Hands Up campaign, set up to save local surgery, has been given added hope after a committee from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety visited the Clark Clinic. Afterwards, it called on Health Minister Edwin Poots to put the consultation on hold, and to review the entire terms of reference.
Sarah Quinlan, executive officer of the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, explained that proposed changes to paediatric cardiac services in England and Wales are to be fully reviewed and local campaigners are calling for the same action to be taken in Northern Ireland.
She said, “This means children in Northern Ireland are now the only children subject to the guidelines contained in the review, which were also rejected by the Scottish Government. This is hugely distressing for children and their families.”
Julie pointed out that the Clark Clinic, which carries out 140 operations a year, had been subject to the same terms of reference as hospitals in England and Wales which covered a much wider area and carried out many more operations.
She added that the timeframe given for consultation in Northern Ireland was also much shorter than in the other two regions of the UK.
It has also emerged that Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which was cited as the main centre which would take surgery from Northern Ireland, has said that it will only undertake specialist operations, due to the workload.
Said Julie, “If they can’t do it, where are our children meant to go? There is no real plan in place. These are seriously ill children, who aren’t physically fit to fly from Belfast.”
Meanwhile, a public meeting attended by the consultation team will take place at Brownlow Community Hub on Monday at 8pm and anyone who wants to find out more should go along.
The consultation ends on Friday, December 21 and Julie is appealing to local people to make their views known. She said, “This does not just apply to people who have a child with heart problems. It will have implications for children who have just been born, and will need surgery in the future, and those who have not yet been born.
“We are the voices of the children. They have fought enough in their lives. We have to fight for them.”
Anyone who needs advice on filling out the consultation form is welcome to phone Julie on 07770952469.