Thursday 24 August 2017

Irish patients to lose access to surgery services in the UK

Patients may be less inclined to travel to mainland Europe due to longer journeys and language difficulties. Stock photo: PA
Patients may be less inclined to travel to mainland Europe due to longer journeys and language difficulties. Stock photo: PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hundreds of patients in the Republic, who are availing of an EU scheme which allows them to have surgery or other treatments in Northern Ireland or in Britain, will have to travel to non-English speaking countries after Brexit.

The Cross Border Directive, which is growing in popularity, allows the patient to pay upfront for the treatment - but they can reclaim the cost from the HSE, said Dr Trevor Duffy of the Irish Medical Organisation's international affairs committee.

He said doctors who refer patients under the scheme normally generally know the specialists in the North or the UK .

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal 774 patients from the Republic, many of them on waiting lists, have used the scheme this year at a cost of over €1m - mainly travelling to the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Patients may be less inclined to travel to mainland Europe due to longer journeys and language difficulties.

Dr Duffy, a specialist in Connolly Hospital, Dublin, said: "Given that economics will dominate the Brexit agenda, health is in danger of falling down the priority list."

He said Brexit could have wide-ranging implications and put hugely beneficial, shared health services for patients who live near the Border in jeopardy.

"Traditionally a Border community can suffer poor health outcomes," Dr Duffy said.

"However, they are currently benefiting from arrangements such as shared ear, nose and throat service for instance between Monaghan, Cavan and Enniskillen hospitals.

Relocate

"This has been supported by the EU-funded Co-operation and Working Together Programme. In Donegal, cardiac patients in need of primary angioplasty have been treated in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry," he added. "Cancer patients in Donegal also receive radiotherapy there."

An all-island cardiac surgery service in Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin in Dublin treated scores of young children with congenital heart disease from the North in recent years.

Meanwhile, a consultant anaesthetist who lives and works in Newry, but also works in the Republic, has warned that a hard Border could force him to leave the NHS and relocate to the Republic.

Dr Peter Maguire said: "I am one of a number of Northern Ireland doctors who regularly travels south of the Border to care for patients."

There are also fears about co-operation in the response to major emergencies and public health risks.

However, health services in the Republic, particularly hospitals facing staffing shortages, could potentially benefit if there is a fall in doctors and nurses opting to work in the UK post-Brexit.

There has been a drop of around 90pc in new registration of nurses in the UK since last year's referendum.

There are no signs yet that Irish hospitals are benefiting in any substantial way.

Figures from the Irish Nursing and Midwifery Board show that 381 nurses from Ireland sought permits to work in the UK last year, compared to 454 in 2015.

However, this is against a big rise in the numbers seeking permits to work in Australia, which has overtaken the UK as the top nurses' destination.

Some 421 permits were granted for Australia last year compared to 289 in 2015.

Irish Independent

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