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Free kidney dialysis in EU for Irish passport holders from Northern Ireland is hailed by Stephen Watson

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BBC sports presenter Stephen Watson

BBC sports presenter Stephen Watson

Stephen n hospital

Stephen n hospital

BBC sports presenter Stephen Watson

TV presenter Stephen Watson has welcomed news people from Northern Ireland with Irish passports will be eligible for free dialysis in the EU post-Brexit if they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

The broadcast sports journalist is one of the best-known local benefactors of dialysis, having had two kidney transplants.

And the 48-year-old revealed that when he visits America to report on golfing tournaments he often has to pay several hundred pounds for the essential treatment.

UK citizens with British passports have been warned that their EHIC cards may no longer be valid if the EU and UK do not reach an agreement before the end of the transition period in December.

The BBC reporter, who has British and Irish passports, told the Belfast Telegraph it was important for dialysis patients to be able to avail of treatment away from home.

"Britain hasn't said what the reciprocal arrangement is going to be yet after Brexit," he said.

"It's called holiday dialysis - that's just the terminology for it. I didn't use it for that, I used it to work, and other people use it to work as well.

"At the Ryder Cup in France I had to go and have two sessions of dialysis because you can't go more than two days without it.

"When I went to France, the hospital here can liaise with the hospital in France and they set that all up for you, but post-Brexit that won't be the case unless you've got an Irish passport."

Stephen, who revealed that his new kidney is working "really well", said sessions cost "anywhere between £350 and £600" depending on where you go.

"I paid for two sessions of dialysis when I went to the Masters in America because that's not covered by EHIC and they were around £400," he said.

"But if you went somewhere more touristy like New York it could be more expensive."

If there's no equivalent reciprocal health care agreement between the UK and the EU it could make travelling abroad impossible for many kidney dialysis patients.

"Someone who wants to go on holiday for a week could end up paying £1,000 for three dialysis sessions," he said.

"Dialysis is designed to allow people to have as normal a life as possible as well as keeping them alive, and that's why they have this system in place to allow people to be able to travel on holiday.

"That's why this is great news for Northern Ireland people with Irish passports."

Stephen, who has been shielding as a result of Covid-19, added: "I know from having used the EHIC system it's invaluable."

The popular documentary maker, who said he never leaves home without a face mask, said he realises not everyone is as fortunate as him.

"I was one of the lucky people, I was on dialysis and I was able to have a transplant," he said.

"There are a lot of people on dialysis in the UK and Ireland who will never qualify for a kidney transplant. The only way that they can go on holiday or have some rest and relaxation anywhere is to have dialysis. For example, if somebody from Belfast wanted to go on holiday to Cork they would need to avail of this. It's as straightforward as that." Stephen had a second kidney transplant in December. He received the first from his father 30 years before that.

Belfast Telegraph