Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Monday, 8 March 2021

Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Cross-Border Healthcare Directive: Discussion

Mr. Muiris O'Connor:

I thank the Chairman. This session has been very valuable for us and we would regard it as a direct input into our thinking and into framing the scheme on a statutory basis. To deal with the administrative basis and, as the Chairman said, the sticking plaster, Brexit ran very close to the cliff edge in terms of the high-level negotiations, as we all know. We had a huge programme of work across this and many other areas to mitigate all the risks that arose. One of the reasons it is not on a statutory basis, as well as the compressed preparation time we had, is the very substantial complexity that arises in putting a scheme such as this on a statutory basis. I cannot give specific answers to the question of whether the payment upfront can be done away with, but I can assure the Chairman that all operational and policy matters will be considered.

As a Department, we absolutely empathise with the seriousness identified by Senators in regard to the waiting times that arise here. Like them, we are concerned about the further deterioration in waiting times that is almost certain to arise from Covid. However, putting a scheme like this on a statutory basis gives rise to matters of equity. Procuring outside of the European Single Market gives rise to WTO tendering issues and other issues. Absolutely, we will have to get stuck in on this really early, and we will be taking input on it as we go. We recognise the need for certainty.

While it is a scheme we support, it is regrettable that it is investment that is not improving facilities in this country, and that is something we are very keen to address through Sláintecare implementation and other mechanisms. We would pay a lot of attention to the services that people are seeking through the cross-border directive and the new Northern Ireland scheme to ensure we are also making the correct investments in those services in our own jurisdiction.

I thank Senators and I very much welcome all of their thoughtful questions. As I said, they have raised many issues that we will be processing in working with our Minister and the Government on the statutory scheme in the immediate period ahead.


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