Tuesday 12 November 2019

Thousands of Irish patients forced to go abroad for treatment which could be delivered here

Simon Nugent. Photo: Tom Burke
Simon Nugent. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The HSE is paying for thousands of Irish patients on waiting lists to go abroad when they could be treated in private hospitals in this country, it was claimed today.

Under the EU Cross Border Directive a patient in need of surgery or an outpatient appointment can seek a doctor’s referral to a hospital in Northern Ireland, the UK or other EU member country and have the cost reimbursed by the HSE.

However, the Private Hospitals Association (PHA)- representing private hospitals - said these patients could be treated here on their own doorstep and spared the long journey.

It would relieve the patients the burden of having to go abroad and foot the cost of travel for which they are not reimbursed.

Simon Nugent, chief executive of the PHA, called on Health Minister Simon Harris to seek a change in HSE policy and allow the treatment at home.

“Hospital waiting lists have reached all-time highs, with 1 in 8 people in Ireland (570,000) currently awaiting some form of hospital treatment. 14,000 Irish patients joined the queue since March this year alone,” Mr Nugent said.

“There is a network of 19 private hospitals dotted throughout the country that could make substantial in-roads into these waiting list numbers.  It is perverse that waiting patients are being urged by the State to seek treatment abroad but not here.

"The HSE is spending increasing amounts of money under the Cross-Border Directive treating patients elsewhere in the EU. Bizarrely, the only private hospitals in Europe where patients are not entitled to be treated are those in Ireland.  You can choose Milan or Munich, Bristol or Budapest but if you go to any private hospital across Ireland you won’t be refunded by the HSE.” 

 “Private hospitals here seek parity under the HSE scheme. With the Cross-Border Treatment Directive, the HSE will only refund the bills from a private or public hospital in an EU country up to the cost of doing the procedure in a public hospital in Ireland.  The Minister for Health should instruct the HSE to simply apply the same rule within Ireland.  Member states are not required by the EU to apply the Cross-Border Directive in their home country but neither do they forbid it.”

 “It is unfair to patients to force them to go abroad, opening them to health risks too. The distance between home and where the procedure occurred is a clinical risk particularly if there are complications or a need for readmission. Patients requiring subsequent visits to the hospital abroad must apply again to the Scheme.”

In response the HSE said today that does not have any discretion on how the scheme is implemented and it is bound by EU rules which insist that the treatment must be obtained cross border.

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