Brexit may scupper treatment in North for waiting-list patients here
The new "safety net" for waiting-list patients who are availing of healthcare in Northern Ireland is being used by more people - but it may be in jeopardy after Brexit, it has emerged.
Figures from the Department of Health show that last year 1,741 patients from the Republic - who availed of the cross-Border directive that allows them pay for treatment upfront and later be reimbursed by the HSE - went to the UK.
Of this number, 1,660 accessed treatment in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority having outpatient procedures.
The figures were presented to the Oireachtas health committee yesterday by health officials who were giving an update on preparations for health services in the run-up to Brexit, when Britain and Northern Ireland will no longer be in the EU and part of the scheme.
Referring to the separate Treatment Abroad Scheme, where treatments not available to patients here are paid for by the HSE in another country, it said figures for 2017 showed there were 632 approved applications, of which 565 were in the UK and, of this number, 20 were in Northern Ireland.
"Whether, or how, services under these EU instruments will continue to be available to Irish citizens accessing these services in the UK will depend on the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations, including whether or not there is a transition period.
"The commitment in principle to continue long-established arrangements between Ireland and the UK on health co-operation under the Common Travel Area and Associated Rights, such as specialist consultant referrals, is allowing the bilateral dimensions of these issues to be fully examined with the UK.
"It is important to note that under the Cross-Border Directive and the Treatment Abroad Scheme, both of these EU provisions will continue to apply to Irish patients within the wider EU/EEA area post-Brexit," they added.
Other issues which are being examined include the area of medicines in Ireland post-Brexit.
However, they said existing arrangements - such as the availability of the radiotherapy Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry to patients from Donegal, and the new Hybrid Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory in Crumlin Hospital in Dublin providing emergency surgery to babies born with congenital heart disease from the North - would not be affected by Brexit.