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The Briefing

Solicitor warns NI patients are losing out on cross border healthcare

by Aiken PR


Leading Belfast healthcare lawyer says issue concerns the EU’s Cross–Border Directive.

A cross border health scheme which has been directly impacted by Brexit is forcing Northern Ireland patients to endure even longer waiting lists and lose out on potentially lifesaving treatments, while patients in the Republic can still avail of the facility, according to a leading Belfast healthcare lawyer.

The EU’s Cross–Border Directive (CBD) scheme on healthcare has been used by thousands of people to get treated quickly over the border with Northern Ireland residents receiving £14.1m worth of healthcare under the Scheme over the last five years. The Scheme has been used even more in the Republic of Ireland, with €47.2m worth of healthcare provided under the scheme to Republic of Ireland residents since 2016.

However, the EU Directive 24/2011 on Cross–Border Healthcare which previously allowed Northern Ireland patients to obtain treatment in an EEA country, paying up front and then claiming reimbursement, ended with the UK’s EU exit on 31 December 2020.

While a replacement scheme has been set up for patients in the Republic of Ireland to access private healthcare in Northern Ireland this year, no plans are in place for an alternative arrangement for NI patients.

Belfast based healthcare and litigation lawyer Kevin Hegarty from O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors has said more needs to be done to replicate the Republic of Ireland scheme in Northern Ireland so that patients do not miss out on vital treatment.

“Currently there are significant numbers of patients on waiting lists in Northern Ireland. For example, on 31 December 2020, a total of 105,159 patients were waiting to be admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland, 16.2% more than 31 December 2019. Our waiting list figures are already much worse than in other parts of the UK and the situation has only been impacted further due to the pandemic.

“The issue is that, given that patients no longer have the option of going to another EU state for treatment and recouping the costs from the NHS, then the already long waiting lists are likely to get worse in time, and patients who cannot afford the private care will simply have no option but to wait and wait. In that sense, Brexit has adversely impacted an already challenging situation for many patients in Northern Ireland.

“As well as additional funding we need more strategic cross border co–operation between the two governments, the HSE and Department of Health to get a new healthcare agreement in place. What has been put in place by the Irish government has not been replicated by the NI Executive. The longer this is left without a new scheme being introduced the more detrimental the impact will be on the health and lives of patients across Northern Ireland. Moreover, the extent of the waiting lists problem in Northern Ireland is likely to force those who can afford private care to pay for it themselves, while many are not in a financial position to do so, ultimately widening the social inequality in Northern Ireland.”