New arrangements have been introduced to ensure people who are facing long surgical waiting lists here can continue travelling to Northern Ireland to access certain healthcare treatments post-Brexit.
But a TD who has organised buses for thousands of people to Belfast for cataract surgery said the terms of the new deal must be extended beyond December.
Independent TD Michael Collins was reacting to the news that a new scheme has been introduced to replace the EU Cross Border Directive (CBD).
The CBD, which only applies to healthcare that is publicly available in Ireland, allows people to get healthcare in another EU or European Economic Area member state.
The healthcare must be planned, you need a valid referral and you must qualify for the healthcare you want as a public patient in Ireland.
Once you travel to that area for healthcare, you must pay for it but you can then apply to the HSE for reimbursement, once you meet certain conditions.
Since January 1, 2021, the provisions of the CBD no longer apply to the UK, or Northern Ireland, post-Brexit.
Mr Collins was among several TDs who had expressed concern that Brexit would hit those on long waiting lists for cataract, knee or hip replacement surgery, and who instead had opted to travel to the North for their operations.
He said some 2,000 people have availed of the ‘cataract bus’ service he helped organise from West Cork in 2017.
The Cork South West TD says the waiting list to get on his ‘Belfast or blind’ bus has “exploded” due to the effects of Covid-19 on the health service and he warned of a surge of requests for treatment in the North when the pandemic restrictions ease later this year.
He raised the issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, in the Dáil yesterday where it was confirmed that a new scheme has been introduced to replace the CBD to ensure that people can continue to travel north for certain treatments.
Mr Coveney said while it is the Government’s overall aim to increase capacity in Irish hospitals, it was anxious to introduce arrangements in a post-Brexit scenario to ensure the continuity of programmes such as the CBD.
A Government spokesman said later: “In order to mitigate the impact of the loss of access to care in the UK under the EU CBD scheme for persons resident in Ireland, the Government has agreed to provide for the implementation of a replacement scheme to be available in Northern Ireland only from January 1, 2021.
“Furthermore, the HSE has also put in place transitional arrangements for certain patients who have a legitimate expectation of continuing to access care in the UK under the current provisions of the EU CBD Scheme including provision for reimbursement of healthcare costs by the HSE to persons who fall into certain categories, such as patients who can evidence that they have treatment booked prior to December 2020 for treatment in 2021."
However, in a letter to HSE chief Paul Reid, the secretary general of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, said people should be very conscious of the Covid-19 situation
"Clearly the current levels of transmission of Covid-19 in both jurisdictions should be an important consideration for patients who are considering travelling for non-urgent scheduled care," he said.
"It will be important therefore that persons seeking information from the HSE on this new planned healthcare scheme should give careful consideration in their own case to the risks and benefits associated with travel for treatment at this time."