by Susan Mitchell – The Sunday Business Post 27th Oct
The EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive allows patients to access operations, specialised inpatient care and outpatient appointments in another European country once they have a referral letter from a GP or hospital doctor in their home country, and then have the costs of their operation, or treatment, reimbursed by their home health service. Patients can access both public and private facilities overseas.
Under the terms of the directive, the HSE cannot reject applicants for treatment outside Ireland. It reimburses the cost of care up to the same level that would have arisen if the care had been provided in a public hospital in Ireland. Importantly, the cost of care in Irish hospitals is regarded as high by international standards.
The directive covers virtually all elective treatments, bar organ transplants. It includes everything from hip and heart operations to diagnostic scans. It also includes psychiatric and addiction treatment, as well as orthodontic treatment and rehabilitation. It does not cover long-term care.
The unprecedented patient rights differ from the European Health Insurance Card (formerly the E111), for someone who falls ill suddenly, or the existing Treatment Abroad Scheme (for treatments not available in Ireland), as the new legislation pertains to planned procedures that are provided in Irish hospitals.
Use of the directive by Irish patients has soared as awareness of the scheme increased and as patients try to avoid the long waiting lists in Irish hospitals.
The latest official figures show that more than 568,000 people were awaiting an outpatient appointment. More than 67,000 were awaiting an inpatient/day case procedure (some 24,568 were waiting over six months).
In 2018, the HSE processed 3,886 reimbursements and paid out €12.3 million for patients who obtained medical treatment under the directive.