Published Tuesday, 25 September 2012
McDonnell with cardiac patient Ollie and mum Katy Boyd. (© SDLP)
A review carried out earlier this year concluded that the current children's cardiac service was not sustainable at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The Health and Social Care Board has opened a consultation period on the future of the service following a report from a working group who have examined options for the way forward.
Speaking at an Assembly debate on the issue Mr McDonnell, a former GP said: "Surgery of any kind is traumatic. It is especially so for a young child. It is also deeply traumatic and stressful for the parents and family of that child.
"This stress is heightened to unimaginable levels if a family is forced to travel to Birmingham or London for this often lifesaving surgery to take place. It places considerable strain on absent family members.
"I have concerns about the way in which the recommendation of closure of the Belfast based service came about. I have particular concerns, that in comparison with England, the lead-in time to feed into this report was severely limited."
"I am concerned that it largely centred on a two day visit from a team in England to review Paediatric Services in Belfast," he added.
The south Belfast MP said the recommendation has focused too narrowly on numbers, as opposed to impact on patients.
He said that he wants to see non-complex services retained in Belfast with a "much closer" working relationship with Dublin.
I have spoken with the Health Minister Edwin Poots about exploring local retention of this service and through those discussions, I am reassured that he is committed to fully exploring an all-island solution.
He said the option was also well received by Irish government.
Mr McDonnell said he will meet Irish Health Minister Dr James O'Reilly to discuss an all-Ireland option.
Commenting on the future of the service, Mr Poots said previously that he wanted people to benefit from the best possible treatment.
He said the outcome would be the result of a "well balanced decision"
A series of public meetings will be held over the next three months at venues across Northern Ireland as part of the consultation.
There will also be focus groups and meetings held with parents, children and other key groups during this period.
HSC Board Director of Commissioning and Chair of the Working Group, Mr Dean Sullivan, oversaw the creation of the consultation report.
Mr Sullivan said: "The insight and expert knowledge provided by everyone on the Working Group was invaluable in producing a balanced and comprehensive consultation document.
"The shared objective of everyone involved is to secure future arrangements that provide a high quality, safe, sustainable, accessible and timely service for children from Northern Ireland.
"It is very important that everyone with an interest in these vital services considers what we have presented and makes known their views during the course of the consultation."
The consultation will run from Wednesday 26 September to Friday 21 December.
The Minister will decide on the outcome early next year.