Mother hits out at ‘bad decision’ to move heart services

THE mother of a Ballyclare boy who was born with a rare heart defect has hit out at the Health and Social Care Board’s recommendation to remove paediatric cardiac surgery services from the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

Tyler McCusker and his mum, Jennifer Graham. INNT 07-436-RM
Tyler McCusker and his mum, Jennifer Graham. INNT 07-436-RM
Tyler McCusker and his mum, Jennifer Graham. INNT 07-436-RM

Jennifer Graham from Bellevue Place, whose son Tyler McCusker was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, has been a fervent supporter of the Children’s Heartbeat Trust’s Hands Up campaign to retain child cardiac services at the hospital’s Clark Clinic. Indeed, over the past several months she and Tyler have raised more than £4,000 for the charity.

Much to Jennifer’s dismay, the Board this week decided that children’s congenital heart surgery should cease at the Royal Victoria Hospital as the service is no longer sustainable.

At a public meeting in Belfast on Thursday (April 25), the Board said that in future children in Northern Ireland requiring surgery and interventional cardiology should be treated out at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin, or at hospitals in England.

While Health Minister Edwin Poots still has to make a final decision on the matter, it’s thought he is likely to approve the Board’s recommendation.

“I think this is a really bad decision and it’ll be really hard on a lot of families, especially the children,” Jennifer told the Times. “I can’t believe they have taken the decision to do this.”

Tyler, who is a pupil at Ballyclare Nursery School, had to undergo a lifesaving operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital when he was just three days old. He has been back to Birmingham for further procedures since, and is expected to undergo a third major surgery later this year.

“Tyler already gets treated in Birmingham due to the complexity of his condition, but I just don’t know what will happen now if he takes ill when he’s at home,” Jennifer continued.

“I know how hard it is to have to leave family and friends and travel on your own and to sit in the hospital day after day with your sick child - it’s not nice when you have to leave your other child for weeks and get someone to look after them. There’s also the expense involved, taking time off work and other things that the people who make these decisions don’t seem to realise. The decision to move services away from Belfast will make things very difficult for a lot of local families.”

Announcing the Board’s decision, Chief Executive, John Compton said: “The HSC Board is very sensitive to the fact that this decision will affect the families and children currently using the service. The Board has only one objective and that is to provide a safe, high quality and sustainable service into the future. The Board has and will continue to work closely with those who use the service to ensure that any changes are properly explained and where possible take account of family views.”