A growing number of public patients are escaping long queues on waiting lists and are taking matters into their own hands by traveling to Northern Ireland or an EU country for treatment while the HSE foots the bill.
New figures show that the HSE had paid out more than €4.9million to patients going to approved hospitals in Northern Ireland by the end of June.
In addition, HSE reimbursed more than EUR 2 million to over 500 patients for more than 1,018 treatment cases in the first half of the year, mainly in EU countries.
Patients enroll in the program for a range of specialist appointments, treatments and surgeries including hip and knee surgeries, cataracts, ear, nose and throat surgeries, cardiac care and plastic surgery.
Under the EU’s Cross-Border Treatment Directive – or the post-Brexit equivalent for Northern Ireland – patients who have been referred by their doctor and approved by the HSE can have their treatment carried out in hospitals in the North or in the EU.
The patient agrees to pay for the care up front – around €13,500 for hip surgery – and is applying for reimbursement from the HSE, with the money arriving in around two months.
A breakdown of patients using the system in Northern Ireland up to the end of June shows the largest number is from Donegal, but the second highest is from Cork, followed by Dublin, Monaghan, Louth, Kerry, Cavan, Wexford and Tipperary.
Some people go to their credit union to get a loan, knowing that the amount that the HSE will reimburse will arrive in about eight weeks.
Dave McAuley, chief executive of Donore credit union in south inner Dublin, said his credit union has helped some people – including a number who became members to take advantage of the loan.
“We don’t know the person’s medical condition, but we want to support them with treatment.”
He said the HSE was arranging to pay the refunded amount directly to the credit union.
“We have guaranteed payments from the HSE,” he said. There’s no financial benefit to the credit union, but it’s a social service, he added.
He asked the Department of Health to give credit unions a fee or other financial assistance — similar to what post offices do for welfare payments — to give members more relief.
“There are imaginative ways. We need to make sure we don’t compromise our small resources for the benefit of members.”
Linda Ward, a nurse from Castlecomer, Kilkenny, was among those who made the journey north to Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast in November last year for a hip replacement.
Before the surgery, she woke up in the middle of the night in pain and had to take medication.
“I blamed my feet for the pain in my hip. A neighbor in town noticed I was limping and said it was similar to what her husband had before he went to Kingsbridge Hospital for a hip job.”
She shared how this prompted her to undergo an X-ray, which revealed severe arthritis and that the hip needed replacement.
“The doctor said he would refer me to Waterford University Hospital, but it could be years before the operation is performed.”
Instead, she contacted Kingsbridge Hospital and was given an outpatient appointment with an orthopedist within days. “He said I was to qualify for the HSE program and it would take eight weeks: five until approval and three before surgery.”
She first inquired about a loan from her credit union, but her family was able to raise the €13,500, with the HSE reimbursing €11,000.
“The operation lasted only half an hour. Twelve weeks later I was able to drive to Belfast myself for a check.”
Mrs Ward, a nurse at St Patrick’s Center in Kilkenny, was back at work shortly afterwards.
“I would recommend everyone to watch the program.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/i-was-told-i-would-wait-years-for-hip-surgery-so-i-went-to-belfast-and-now-im-pain-free-42071071.html “I was told I would wait years for hip surgery so I went to Belfast and now I’m pain free.”