Cross-border healthcare reimbursement scheme extension closed as extra £5m funding already allocated
THE closure of a cross-border healthcare scheme aimed at reducing waiting lists in the north will place "additional strain" on the health system, it has been warned.
The Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme was created to replace the the European Union's Cross-Border Health Directive following Brexit, and reimbursed people who travel to the south to access healthcare with the equivalent sum of what it would cost north of the border.
Patients were required to find a private healthcare provider in the Republic after being diagnosed as having a clinical need in the north.
The scheme was initially intended to run to the end of June, but Stormont's Department of Health extended it following the allocation of an extra £5 million.
It was announced in July that the extension would end once the new £5m was allocated.
Health minister Robin Swann said there had been "significant interest" in the scheme, adding that as the extra funding was not part of his department's baseline budget, "it is a decision that I have taken at risk".
It has emerged that it closed to new applicants on September 21, with the Department of Heath stating: "The scheme's additional limit of £5m has now been reached."
Applications were to be processed "in chronological order", while those received after the 21st "will not be considered".
Sinn Féin MLA and his party's health spokesperson, Colm Gildernew, said the ongoing lack of an Executive at Stormont was placing new pressure on the north's healthcare system following the ending of the scheme.
He said it was a "matter of huge concern as it will mean people can't get the surgeries they so badly need".
He added: "It will also put additional strain on an already overstretched system. It's incumbent on all of us to sit down and get the Executive restored to ensure decisions can be taken for the benefit of everyone."