A total of 2,246 people from Northern Ireland have travelled across the Border to avail of a scheme allowing them to receive healthcare treatment here, figures show.
The temporary Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme was set up following Brexit to allow for continued cross-border healthcare, which was previously covered under the EU’s Cross-Border Health Directive.
Due to end on July 1 this year, the scheme was set up to run for 12 months.
Patients approved to travel for treatment under the temporary scheme have nine months from the date of approval to arrange treatment and submit their claim for reimbursement, up to the equivalent cost in Northern Ireland.
It has been used frequently for orthopaedic problems such as hip and knee replacements – a surprise, given that the Republic has some of the longest waiting lists for such surgeries.
Figures show that, from July 1, 2021, until April 30 this year, 2,842 applications were received under the scheme, with 2,246 of them receiving approval.
A total of 886 claims were made for treatment, with 737 payments authorised.
Over the five years before it ended, the EU’s cross-border scheme saw thousands of Northern Ireland residents receive €16.5m in healthcare in this country.
In the North, the Alliance Party’s health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said: “I have pushed the health minister on this in the past and it is my understanding that a permanent replacement is being established.
“I would call on the minister to make public progress in that regard as a matter of urgency.
“This arrangement is another complication caused by hard Brexit, and constitutes yet another example of the nonsense of pursuing a hard border anywhere between the UK and the EU.”
In a statement, the North’s health department said: “In June 2021, the minister of health announced a new cross-border healthcare scheme (ROI Reimbursement Scheme) for a 12-month period from June 30 2021 as the Cross Border Healthcare Directive no longer applies to the UK.
“Consideration of options for the end of the current 12 month scheme are still ongoing.”