Saturday 23 March 2019

Relief for patients as deal done to save cross-Border health treatment reimbursements

Access: Health Minister Simon Harris will unveil proposed legislation today. Photo: Picture Andres Poveda
Access: Health Minister Simon Harris will unveil proposed legislation today. Photo: Picture Andres Poveda
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Patients from the Republic will still be able to get reimbursed hospital care in Northern Ireland and Britain after Brexit.

Hospitals in both Northern Ireland and the rest of UK will continue to be available post-Brexit to waiting list patients from here who are increasingly availing of the EU scheme which reimburses the cost of their cross-border treatment.

Health Minister Simon Harris will today unveil proposed legislation which will aim to ensure hospitals in both regions can remain accessible to patients from the Republic who travel for operations and specialist care under the EU cross-border directive.

It is part of the 17-piece "omnibus Bill" which the Government is bringing forward in legislation and statutory instruments in a range of areas relating to changes in the laws that will need to be in place post-Brexit.

It was feared that once the North and mainland UK left the EU that patients using the cross-border directive from the Republic would have to travel to other member states, coping with longer journeys and a foreign language.

The scheme has become a growing safety valve for patients who face long delays on hospital waiting lists here for treatment. The cost to the HSE for reimbursing patients under the scheme was €4.4m in 2017, but this jumped to €11.8m covering nearly 4,000 patients. The increase in interest has meant the HSE office has had to draft in more staff.

The new post-Brexit solution, agreed with the Office of the Attorney General, will involve two main steps.

The first is to put in place enabling primary legislation to give the minister powers to make such orders as may be necessary to encompass the continued provision of existing elements of healthcare between Ireland and the UK.

The next stage is to draft detailed regulations which will ensure healthcare can be delivered to the same broad categories of people for whom it is currently provided and reimbursed.

Others to benefit will be eligible patients in the Republic who need to access the separate EU Treatment Abroad Scheme, which qualifies them for medical care abroad which is not available here.

The proposed legislation can also cover the healthcare entitlements for UK contributory pensioners living here as well as groups such as staff posted to Ireland, visitors and students.

The effect of the changes will be to mirror the existing schemes which allow for reciprocal healthcare access to continue.

Most patients who have availed of the cross-border directive so far have had treatments such as hip operations and cataract surgery. There has also been a significant number having orthodontic treatment.

A spokesman for Charter Medical in Dublin, which arranges for patients from the Republic to avail of the scheme in Oaklands Hospital in Manchester, said growing numbers of people are using it as a way of getting off long waiting lists for procedures like joint replacements.

Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast has also seen a rise in patients from the Republic, including people who travelled in buses arranged by TDs such as Kerry Independent Michael Healy-Rae.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that while ratification of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is still the Government's priority "we will continue our preparations for all scenarios".

Irish Independent

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