16 Aug 2022

Extension of cross border health scheme welcomed

'A health service, free at the point of delivery must be protected at all costs' - Mark H Durkan

Extension of cross border health scheme welcomed

Extension of cross border health scheme welcomed

There has been a cautious welcome for the extension of the Republic of Ireland's Reimbursement Scheme (ROIRS).

According to Mark H Durkan MLA (SDLP) ROIRS has now been extended beyond its original June 30, 2022, deadline.

However, warning against what he described as a "sticking plaster approach to healthcare", Mr Durkan said the Health Minister announced a further funding allocation of £5 million with applications being accepted from 1 July 2022. 

The ROIRS replaced the EU Healthcare Directive which ended as a direct consequence of Brexit in 2020. However, Mr Durkan has called for a long term solution to tackle Northern Ireland’s dire health waiting lists. 

He added: "The extension of this scheme is welcome however, I fear a series of complications including reduced capacity and increasing healthcare costs in the south has limited the effectiveness of this initiative. 

“It is important to note that neither the EU Directive and nor the Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme, are ideal avenues to begin with. Essentially, patients have been left with no other option but to apply to these schemes to access treatment elsewhere given the dire and persistent lengthy waiting lists across the North. 

“Patients are still required to pay upfront for any procedure under this initiative, costs of procedures are constantly going up in the south due to supply and demand. Yet the subsidy remains stagnant resulting in a bigger shortfall. In not keep step with rising costs, applicants to this scheme face being priced out of availing of assistance. Never mind a two-tier health system, this approach creates a three-tier system whereby fast-track treatment is only available to those in a financial position to get it.” 

"It is clear this sticking-plaster approach to healthcare is losing its grip.  We must look at increasing capacity here to begin with," said Mr Durkan.

Mr Durkan said the Department of Health must look at cost differentials going forward, to ensure the most viable option is determined.

He said: "I hope the newly designated Elective Orthopaedic Hub based at the Western Trust will help tackle regional waiting lists for elective procedures. Attentions must be focused on securing a long term solution, one which takes a collaborative approach to cross border healthcare to tackle our dire elective surgery waiting lists and maximise resources. 

"A health service, free at the point of delivery must be protected at all costs.” 


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