HSE apologises over delays in treatment abroad scheme

Patients waiting three months for reimbursement as demand for scheme grows

It is taking the HSE three months to process applications for reimbursement under its treatment abroad scheme. Photograph: Thinkstock

The Health Service Executive has apologised for a three-month delay in processing applications under a scheme that allows patients seeking medical treatment abroad.

Demand for the treatment abroad scheme has soared in recent years, due to rising waiting lists in Ireland and increased publicity about the scheme. A growing number of citizens of other EU states also return to their home country to avail of treatment under the scheme.

Currently, it is taking the HSE three months to process applications for reimbursement, a delay it attributes to the rise in demand for the scheme. While reimbursements are supposed to be processed within 30 days, currently the turnaround time is 75 days, the HSE says. About 2,500 applications are waiting to be processed.

Acknowledging the “significant delays” involved, the HSE said it was making every effort to improve waiting times.


“The HSE is also working with the Department of Health to address the resourcing of the Cross Border Directive office to levels which reflect the volume of requests, and the current and future demands for the Scheme.”

Under the EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive, patients are entitled to be treated abroad and have the cost of their care paid for afterwards by the HSE. Many take out loans to fund their treatment so the delays in reimbursement are problematic.

The HSE says it is installing extra phone lines in its Kilkenny office to handle the increased volume of inquiries.

The number of treatments reimbursed has grown from 1,025 in 2016 to 3,886 last year. Spending on the scheme has increased commensurately, from €2.5 million in 2016 to €12.3 million last year.

The most common surgeries paid for by the scheme are cataracts, orthopaedic work including hip and knee replacements, gynaecology and general surgery.

The main countries where services are accessed are Northern Ireland; Wales and the UK in general; and Poland.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.