No EU deal could block all-island healthcare
Patients in the Republic seeking treatment in Northern Ireland may be prevented from accessing procedures here after Brexit, it has been warned.
And in the last three years 607 patients in Northern Ireland have applied for treatment elsewhere in Europe - which could now end.
Some 4,462 applications have been approved in the Republic under two EU schemes to access UK healthcare services over the same period, according to figures obtained by The Detail investigative website.
Of these, 2,453 were for treatment in Northern Ireland, resulting in €37.9m worth of treatments under both the Cross Border Healthcare Directive and Treatment Abroad Scheme, known as S2 here.
Treatments included procedures relating to orthopaedics, gynaecology and oncology.
Nearly nine out of every 10 applications for treatment in other EU member states from the Republic, which has private costs attached to its public healthcare, between 2015 to 2017 were for treatment here, England and Scotland.
One chief executive of a south Belfast private clinic, which accepts patients from the Republic, warned that if no Brexit deal about the schemes is struck, access may stop.
Mark Regan, of Kingsbridge Private Hospital, said consultations peaked last month, with patients coming in fairly equal numbers from all over the Republic.
"The numbers don't really get across the personal impact that Brexit could have... if the right deal isn't struck," he said.
He added this could have an adverse medical impact on some patients forced to travel to the mainland EU.
"Many of the Royal Colleges now recommend patients not to fly for six weeks or more after joint replacement surgery as it increases the risks of getting deep vein thrombosis," he told The Detail.
"If, post-Brexit, Irish patients can't come to Belfast, then this will place them in a compromising position of needing to fly home from mainland Europe with these risks in mind."
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland patients, who have access to free healthcare under the NHS, received £1.7m worth of healthcare as part of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive in the Republic.
The Department of Health has confirmed that only the Treatment Abroad Scheme/S2 initiative - and not the cross-border scheme - has been included in the UK's negotiations with the EU.
However, terms of the deal have yet to be finalised.