Independent Clare TD Dr Michael Harty has issued an advisory for people considering applying for the medical treatment health scheme in other EU states available under the Cross Border Healthcare Directive.

According to Dr Harty, this scheme entitles Clare patients waiting for surgery or other treatments to avail of faster hospital service in any other EU country including Northern Ireland. The scheme has benefited many people who have been on waiting lists for a long time. Patients do not have to be on a waiting list and are entitled go for assessment for any condition other than transplant surgery.

However, Dr Harty has advised that prospective patients must fund the cost of the treatment initially but the money must later be reimbursed by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) on completion on the treatment.  The HSE promises to do this on receipt of an invoice which should take about a month.

Dr Harty said the directive can provide short term relief for individual cases but is not a solution in addressing the long-term issues of the Irish health service. “In my view, that ultimate solution can only be provided in the context of the Sláintecare report, a ten year plan to radically reform the health services.

“The EU scheme, which has not been very well known up to now, is currently receiving considerable media attention, which in turn means more people will avail of it and I wonder for how long the HSE will be in a position to fund it. The HSE must refund the cost of the treatment when it is available in any other EU country ,” said Dr. Harty.

He added, “It seems extraordinary that the work can be done more cheaply abroad because our public hospital costs are extremely expensive. In fact they are among the highest in Ireland.  “Private healthcare providers in Northern Ireland are promoting their services here but the directive is valid for any state in the EU. For obvious reasons, Northern Ireland is a convenient destination for patients from the Republic.”

Dr Harty advises that travel costs are not covered by the HSE. He said the big difficulty for any patient is funding the initial cost of the surgery or treatment as this means he or she may be out of pocket for a number of weeks. “This has to be done from one’s own resources, or borrowed from family members or possibly by securing a loan from a financial institution such as the credit union.

“My advice,” said Dr Harty, “is to discuss your plans with the HSE national contact point office which administers and oversees this directive. The patient will need prior authorisation for in-patient treatment and for complex care.  “Discussing the matter with your GP is also important as referrals should come from general practice. Some GPs are only now becoming aware of the directive. Information is available on the HSE website,” said Dr. Harty.

Based in Kilkenny, the National Contact Point for the Cross Border Healthcare Directive can be contacted at 056 7784546.