New temporary scheme for Irish patients

A temporary scheme has been introduced to ensure Irish patients can still access private healthcare in Northern Ireland.

People from Derry in Northern Ireland can now access state-health care in Europe using a European Health Insurance Card paid for by Dublin rather than London. Ireland will underpin cross-border healthcare with legislation in 2021.

The Irish government has confirmed it will pay for Derry Euro healthcare and Donegal cancer and heart attack patients to still access treatments in Altnagevlin Area Hospital in Derry, where these services are provided to patients on an all-Island basis.

Under the common travel area arrangements Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England and UK citizens in Ireland will continue to be able to access each other’s health services.

Derry arranges buses for people to travel to the North for procedures including cataract, hip and knee operations. 250 members of the Irish defence forces have received treatment or have been referred to the North under the cross-border scheme. Up to 5,000 people travel every year from the Republic to the North for heavily subsidised treatment to avoid long waiting lists for procedures in their local hospitals.

4,614 Irish patients travelled abroad for medical treatment in 2020.They were reimbursed by the Health Services Executive (HSE), that paid out just under €15m in total, €1.8m more than 2019.

The European Cross Border Healthcare Directive allows people to get healthcare in another EU or EEA member state. The patient has to pay for the healthcare themselves, but they can then apply to the HSE to get reimbursed.

New figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the HSE paid out more than €40m under the scheme over the past three years.

The common countries Irish citizens travel to are Northern Ireland, England and Germany, and the most common specialities they travel for are orthopaedics, eye care and orthodontic treatment. The people who travelled for cross border health care have been waiting in many cases quite a significant length of time. In terms of the money spent by the HSE on treatments abroad, in context of the overall health budget, this is relatively small.