They’ve enjoyed romantic dinners, hand-in-hand walks and many special times together during their 43 years of marriage. Now, they can add hip replacements to the list.

Stephen and Kathleen Leamy, from Youghal, Co Cork, were recovering yesterday after undergoing hip replacement surgery one after the other in a private hospital in Northern Ireland.

“As I said before we came up: This will either make or break the marriage,” joked Mr Leamy.

However, they have both given their thumbs up to the Cross Border Health Care Directive (CBD), a little-used programme which allows EU residents to access health services in EU states other than their own.

“We both have osteoarthritis and I was in severe pain last year. It got to the point where I couldn’t put on a sock or tie a shoelace without being in agony,” said Mr Leamy.

He faced a four-year wait on a HSE waiting list when his GP at the time, Dr Declan O’Callaghan, told him about the CBD scheme.

“Four years when you’re in pain is a long time. I was lucky. I had money put away, which helped me fund the operation,” he said.

Six weeks after making the initial phone call, he was on his way north to Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast where he had his left hip replaced last January.

So impressed was he by the experience, he decided to have his second hip done there too, and this time, he encouraged Kathleen to undergo her first hip replacement at the same time.

Mr Leamy was first to go under the knife of surgeon Denis Molloy on Thursday morning. Once his surgery was complete, Mr Molloy scrubbed up again to operate on Kathleen in the same theatre, minutes later. Both were recovering yesterday in the same ward, in adjoining rooms, and even attended their first physio sessions together.

Stephen on the move as he continues his recovery. Picture: Brian Morrison
Stephen on the move as he continues his recovery. Picture: Brian Morrison

A hospital spokesperson said it was hoped they could be discharged tomorrow.

“They are all lovely people, every one of them. The staff couldn’t be nicer. They are all very helpful and friendly,” said Mr Leamy, who encouraged anyone on a HSE waiting list, and who may be eligible, to consider the CBD scheme.

The couple paid up front for their operations, but they will be reimbursed up to 95% of the cost by the HSE once they submit a range of forms, filled out by the hospital. Kingsbridge chief executive Mark Regan said the money is usually reimbursed within two to four weeks.

The most popular procedures under the CBD are hip and knee replacements, followed by back surgery, cataracts, and ear, nose, and throat surgery, mostly in children. The average cost of a hip replacement comes in at around £9,000 to £10,000 (€10,000 to €11,150).

“Doctors realise that this is the right thing for their patients. They get five-star care ‘just up the road’ and we guarantee no cost for follow-up surgery for up to 60 days after the initial operation,” said Mr Regan.

Follow up care, such as physio, must be provided by the HSE.

This month, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) announced plans for an information campaign to highlight the benefits of the CBD. The NAGP said the directive has the potential to significantly reduce waiting times for day, inpatient and outpatient care. NAGP president Dr Emmet Kerin said feedback from their members highlighted the considerable lack of awareness among GPs and patients that they have the right to seek healthcare in another EU country.


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