Ireland’s health service must ‘prepare for the worst’ post-Brexit

Oireachtas report lists ambulance delays and recognition of staff and products as fears

Post-Brexit healthcare fears: Of 1,700 treatments funded under the cross-Border directive last year, about 700 were provided in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health. Photograph: Frank Miller

Post-Brexit healthcare fears: Of 1,700 treatments funded under the cross-Border directive last year, about 700 were provided in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Ireland should “prepare for the worst” in terms of Brexit’s impact on the health service, according to an Oireachtas report.

A hard Brexit could curtail the freedom of movement of people seeking to access health services abroad, as well as causing delays in ambulance travel across the Border and in the recruitment of staff, the report by the Oireachtas health committee warns.

The committee expresses concern at the lack of detailed information on the number of Irish people using EU schemes to obtain treatment in the UK. It says this data needs to be captured so alternatives can be put in place in the event of Irish people being unable to access these schemes as a result of a British pullout from the EU.

Of 1,700 treatments funded under the cross-Border directive last year, about 700 were provided in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health. It says it is likely other Irish patients have been treated elsewhere in the UK, but it does not have the figures. Of 613 patients funded under the treatment abroad scheme, 574 went to the UK.

The report says a robust system to “fast-track” ambulances and other time-sensitive travel for healthcare needs to be put in place, so Border controls do not cause delays.

Heart surgery programme

Existing cross-Border health agreements, such as the all-island children’s heart surgery programme, needs to be safeguarded from any negative impact cause by a British withdrawal from the EU, it says.

In addition, the mutual recognition of doctors between Ireland and the UK must be retained after Brexit, to minimise possible disruption to health services. Any disruption caused by a divergence in the regulation of medical products also needs to be minimised.

Committee chairman Dr Michael Harty said Ireland could be sharply affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. “Whether or not the concern around these issues will be substantiated will not be known for some time. We don’t know what the terms of the withdrawal will be, or what kind of relationship the UK will have with the EU after it ceases to be a member state. Therefore, it is impossible to predict principal impacts.”

However, while acknowledging the uncertainty involved, Ireland should attempt to anticipate and plan for the worst so it can manage the outcome effectively, he said.