THE parents of a 12-year-old West Belfast child in need of urgent spinal surgery say they are angry that her operation has been cancelled – twice. Speaking from their Lagmore Dale home, Lorraine and Paul Cooke told the Andersonstown News that their daughter, Caitlin, who is suffering from the neuro-degenerative condition Rett syndrome, was due to have surgery to correct her curved spine at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children last Monday. But the operation was cancelled and when the family were instructed to return the next day, they did so – only for the operation to be cancelled again.

“We were told to bring our daughter to the Children’s last Monday to get her admitted but when we got there we were informed that all ten beds in the intensive care unit were in use. We were then told to bring Caitlin back down again on Tuesday morning,” explained Lorraine. “I got Caitlin up at 6.45am, she had been fasting from the night before, and brought her back down again to the Children’s.

“We were told Caitlin was second on the surgery list and that she would be taken around mid-morning for the operation on her spine.

“We were told it was going to be a long day for us as the surgery was going to take up to seven hours so we were preparing ourselves for the day ahead.

“Around 10am we were told there was no bed for her and that the staff would try and sort something out. There seemed to be a lot of confusion going on and Caitlin was becoming more and more agitated with having to wait and we were doing our best to try and put her at ease,” she said.

Caitlin’s father Paul takes up the story: “A nurse came back and said the surgery was off, that all eight beds were in use in the ICU and that we were to go home. She explained that there wasn’t a bed available and that it would then be rescheduled for a later date.

“We were disgusted, absolutely disgusted that our daughter was treated like this. One minute we were told there were ten beds in the ICU and the next there were  only eight – so which is it, ten or eight?

“Our daughter needs this surgery, her spine is 100 per cent curved at this stage and is putting pressure on her organs. For us to come down to the hospital for what was really one big wait and a big waste of resources was just a disgrace.

“Caitlin’s surgery has been rescheduled for July 31 but we had booked a family holiday for the beginning of August, which we have had to cancel.

“I can’t stress enough how much Caitlin needs this surgery. It is so hard on her, her clothes all have to be elasticated due to the curve in her spine and we hope that when we go back in July that the same thing doesn’t happen again.”

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust told the Andersonstown News: “The Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) is situated in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC). This is the only paediatric intensive care facility in Northern Ireland and serves as the Regional Unit for the population of Northern Ireland. PICU is funded for eight category three beds with a recommended occupancy level of 80 per cent.

“However, due to demand on the service, the occupancy levels of PICU over a year runs at 107 per cent and this is achieved by increasing the bed numbers for extended periods to ten beds.

“As PICU is an ever-changing environment, the decision to admit a child to PICU following planned surgery is based on the workload of the children occupying beds in PICU on the morning of the planned surgery.

“It is with the deepest regret that we had to cancel the patient’s surgery, however maintaining a safe environment for all our children is paramount and due to the serious clinical condition of the children currently in PICU the unit is unable to increase above eight beds.”