Mark Dobson: 'No deal' Brexit holds real fears for dialysis patients - 29,000 affected
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, looks forward to a new BBC NI documentary
As we start to see the frost forming on our cars for the first time this year, it's likely some lucky people will begin to turn their thoughts to a winter holiday.
One of those lucky people is mum who is already away at the moment and enjoying some sunshine. But it was a cold start to head to the renal unit yesterday at Belfast City Hospital where I was having one of my regular post-transplant check-ups.
I've talked before about how well they look after kidney patients and keep an eye on us and I have nothing but praise for their attentive care.
When I was there I was lucky enough to bump into the BBC's Stephen Watson who you will remember followed us with a camera crew while mum and I were going through our transplant operation last March. Scary to think that we are almost heading for our first anniversary - or maybe that should be our 'kidneyversary'!
It was lovely to chat to Stephen and also to hear that the documentary Life on the List is almost complete and is likely to be aired on the BBC in May. This will be a fantastic boost for the organ donation and kidney community in Northern Ireland as Stephen's programme will give it such a superb, high profile.
Meanwhile, Brexit dominates our news as we move from Plan A to Plan B and beyond. I talked earlier about planning those winter holidays, but I want to talk for a while about how a 'no deal' Brexit could impact the future holiday plans of the 29,000 people who are on dialysis right across the country.
Currently, dialysis patients have the right to travel to the EU and receive their life-maintaining dialysis through reciprocal healthcare agreements using the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
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If a 'no deal' happens, those patients, without an EHIC, would have to pay about €1,000 per week. No insurance is available for them meaning that effectively patients are unable to travel any more.
That's why it's so important that we ensure these issues are brought to the fore because it's essential to retain the rights of UK citizens to receive healthcare free of charge within EU countries. There are very limited dialysis slots to receive this within the UK.
While this is a matter of receiving treatment there is also the issue of reciprocal organ donation between the UK and other EU countries.
In 2017/18, 22 organs from deceased donors came into the UK from the EU, while 26 organs left the UK with 19 going to the EU and seven to non-EU countries.
The current arrangements are that donated organs which don't match a recipient in the EU may be offered to UK recipients. Likewise, if a donated organ cannot be used in the UK, the organs will be offered within the EU transferred and transplanted there, increasing the number of successful transplants for all.
If the EU directive, agreements and conventions ceased to apply to the UK, continued cross border transplant arrangements might no longer apply which could have the impact of reducing the number of successful kidney transplants and could lead to the wastage of valuable donated organs.
That's why we need to see the continued sharing of human organs for transplantation across EU borders. It saves lives whilst at the same time honouring the wishes of those who choose to donate their organs so that others might live.
I want to pay tribute to those making these points and raising the issues with those at the forefront of negotiations, particularly mum's charity Kidney Care UK which is actively engaging on these issues as negotiations are progressing.
As Robert Frost once put it ironically: "Good fences make good neighbours." In the issue of organ donation and transplantation, and the support provided to dialysis patients, restrictive arrangements, or no arrangements at all, would impact upon lives and indeed put lives at risk.
As we move to Plan B and discuss arrangements for the future we must never forget the needs of patients and the continued need for our health service to receive the reforms it has so long required.