THE healthcare directive introduced in 2014 to provide for medical treatment in other countries of the European Union, has been used by 535 Irish people since it was implemented.
The 371 patients who used it during the first half of 2016 are more than double the 157 people who availed of the facilities during 2015.
This obviously cannot continue at that rate. Most of the treatments were orthopaedic or orthodontic.
Every day two Irish people are compelled to access healthcare in other EU counties. This is a frightening reflection of the crisis in our own health service, caused by the lengthening waiting lists and the inability of patients to access necessary treatment in a timely manner.
In the recent five-point plan that Health Minister Simon Harris published to tackle the waiting lists, it is obvious that he intends to rely on the National Treatment Purchase Fund to resolve the growing problems.
This, of course, will only be a short-term solution. People will welcome the fact that patients are getting access to necessary treatment, especially where there are grave deficiencies in this country.
Ultimately, however, this is merely transferring, rather than tackling the problems. It is necessary to pay for the services anyway. In 2015, the people who accessed the scheme cost over €272,460, whereas the cost for the first half of this year has already escalated to over €386,780.
It would obviously be wiser to develop at home those services that are so urgently needed, because the current measures are only a delaying tactic. Previous efforts to tackle the waiting lists with such measures have failed, as the problems keep returning.
These can only be addressed by resourcing frontline services with the necessary funding to overhaul the health system. That would make more economic and medical sense.
Yesterday, there was a very encouraging report about a new cancer drug. It involved Frank Dowling, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January 2015, when he was given less than a year to live.
In the following months the cancer spread to his lungs and liver. Last October Mr Dowling underwent a clinical trial with a new experimental cancer drug — nivolumab. He not only made Christmas but is currently talking about returning to take a four-year university course, as 90% of his cancer has vanished.
The trials, so far, indicate that nivolumab has only helped about a quarter of those who have used it, but it affords hope for people.
The Department of Health could facilitate testing by making arrangements with the drug company to supply such experimental drugs at an affordable price to terminal patients anxious for such treatment.
There is so much to be gained by identifying really effective drugs that the Department of Health should become proactive.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved