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Cross-border healthcare scheme to be extended, Health Minister Robin Swann confirms


The border crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (PA)

The border crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (PA)

The border crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (PA)

A temporary scheme allowing Northern Ireland citizens to receive healthcare treatment in the Republic is to be extended, the Health Minister has announced.

The Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme (ROIRS) was established following Brexit to allow for continued cross-border healthcare, which was previously covered under the EU's Cross-Border Health Directive.

Last June, the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive ended and the ROIRS was set up as a temporary replacement for a 12-month period from June 30.

The scheme is part of the Department of Health's elective care framework, which is aimed at reducing the length of NI's dire waiting lists.

Health Minister Robin Swann said the ROIRS has been "very successful" with "significant patient interest". From July 1, 2021, to April 30 of this year, a total of 2,842 applications to the scheme were received and 2,246 approved.

The scheme works by reimbursing patients for healthcare across the border, equivalent to the cost of the care here.

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With health sector capacity continuing to grow, Mr Swann said he will allocate a further £5m to allow the ROIRS to run beyond the planned June 30 deadline, with new applications being accepted from July 1.

"These will be processed in chronological order and scheme closure will be deferred until the £5m funding has been committed," he said.

"This is funding that I do not currently have in my department’s baseline, so it is a decision that I have taken at risk. However, given the obvious benefits of the scheme, it was one I felt was necessary as essential HSC capacity continues to become increasingly available over the coming weeks and months."

SDLP health spokesperson Colin McGrath said the extension of the scheme is "very welcome".

“We have sought clarity on this issue for some time and I’m glad this will provide extra capacity and take some of the pressure off our current health service, while allowing patients to receive the treatment they need," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It will also help get people off our waiting lists, particularly for orthopaedics surgeries, which are getting longer every day, with no end in sight to patients’ suffering without a functioning Assembly and Executive to implement much-needed reform.

“We need to explore greater cross-border cooperation between our health services to address the issues we are facing on both sides of the border. We have seen patients benefit from cross-border care in a number of instances, including cancer services in the north west and for children’s cardiac care, and we should take every opportunity open to us to provide patients with the best and most timely care possible.”

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