Two local politicians who have directly experienced the harrowing loss of a child have branded as “shameful, disgraceful and scandalous” news that post-mortems for children will no longer be conducted in Northern Ireland from next year.
And the suggestion of an app – to allow parents to track their child’s remains as they make the journey to England and back – has been branded “cruel and inhuman”.
Lord Mayor Julie Flaherty lost son, Jake, just two years of age, five years ago.
And her Ulster Unionist colleague Doug Beattie MC MLA suffered the loss of his grandson, Cameron, at the age of just 18 months.
Both have been left sickened by Tuesday’s revelations that child post-mortems will be performed at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool from January.
A lack of specialist staff – with the single remaining consultant in Northern Ireland to leave his post in February – is being blamed for a situation.
It will mean that bodies of babies who require a post mortem will have to be transported either by air or sea.
Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie called on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to immediately appoint a local Health Minister in order to begin to take essential decisions.
And Lord Mayor Julie Flaherty found it hard to contain her anger and disbelief at such a step.
She said: “It is a tragedy for any family to lose a baby or young child. Nothing can ever prepare you for it and even years after it, their loss remains with you for every hour of every day.
“I lost my son Jake when he was only two years and two days old in 2013.
“Unfortunately I know from bitter experience how hard it is for parents to face delays for a post mortem – my husband and I were forced to wait an extra two days in order for a specialist to be found.
“That delay only made a nightmare even more difficult for us so I’m furious that the experience we were forced to go through will now be imposed upon so many more parents in Northern Ireland.
“For the Health and Social Care Board to even be looking at using technology such as an app – to allow parents to follow their child’s remains as they make the journey to England and back – demonstrates the sheer cruelty and inhumanity of what is being proposed.
“Whereas funerals in Northern Ireland usually take place three days after death, in England it is more typical to have a period of up to a week or even longer.
“The time between a death and the funeral taking place is especially traumatic, so I am concerned that parents here will be forced to endure even longer delays as they are forced to follow the usual time-frames across the water.
“There has been no accountable leadership in the local health service for almost two years, and with almost 6,000 HSC vacancies at present parents who have gone through one of the most traumatic experiences imaginable will now shortly again be directly impacted by the total abdication of political leadership in Northern Ireland.
“I’ve spent recent months campaigning for the Children’s Funeral Fund for England, under which parents will no longer have to meet the costs of burials or cremations, to be extended to Northern Ireland, but every corner I take I am told it can’t happen in the absence of a local Minister.
“The current political situation in this country is a total disgrace and utterly scandalous.
“As a local councillor I am disgusted, I am angry and I feel ashamed that this is even happening.
“This cannot be allowed to continue.
“We have no accountability in the Department, we have no responsibility in this Department.”
Doug Beattie MC MLA lost his 18-month-old grandson Cameron in 2016, in what he described as the “most terrible and unexpected circumstances”.
He added: “We thank everyone for the care, dignity and decency they showed this lovely boy as he went through a rigorous post mortem.
“It was done thoroughly and it was done quickly and although we have never found out the cause of his death, we thank God that his mother and father were not made to suffer a protracted process before his burial.
“The news that child post mortems are going to be undertaken in England instead of Northern Ireland will only add to the hurt and heartache of those families that have lost a young loved one.
“This is truly disgraceful and the blame must be levelled at politicians who have not been in post to make strategic decisions and not at the Health and Social Care Board.
“It is clear to me and to many more that our health infrastructure is slowly disintegrating and in the end it will collapse unless something drastic is done and done now. The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis in terms of pressures, waiting lists, staff vacancies and morale.
“To that end I call on the Secretary of State to appoint a Health Minister now so that important long term strategic decisions can be taken.
“She can do so on humanitarian grounds as my colleague Lord Empey has asked for, or she can do it out of decency in order to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have access to the same services as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
“It is shameful that this situation continues and although angry. I will avoid the political blame game but instead call for action not words.”
A spokesperson for the HSCB said: “The Health and Social Care Board can confirm that information with regards to, the development of an app, whereby parents will be able to follow their child’s remains as they make the journey to and from England is inaccurate. No app of this nature is being developed.
“Every step will be taken to ensure that all babies, having a post-mortem in Alder Hey, are kept safe the whole way through every stage of their journey with the greatest dignity, respect and sensitivity.”