Cork people waiting months for reimbursement of cross-border patient fees

Cork people waiting months for reimbursement of cross-border patient fees
Bus travelling from Cork and Kerry to Kingsbridge, Belfast for cataract surgery patients recently. 

CORK people who had surgery worth thousands of euros in Northern Ireland are waiting more than three months to be reimbursed.

Hundreds of Corkonians have travelled from Cork to Belfast for cataract surgery over the past 18 months, as part of the Cross Border Directive (CBD) scheme and with the help of West Cork TD Michael Collins (Ind).

Patients pay for surgery at the hospital in the North and afterwards, get a full refund from the HSE. The CBD offices dealt with 37 applications for reimbursement in 2014, and 5,379 last year.

Deputy Collins said that the panic caused by Brexit and a lack of staff have increased the number of people seeking surgery and that this, in turn, has caused delays in reimbursement. The offices have just six agency staff, none full-time. “People are supposed to get their money back within four or five weeks,” said Deputy Collins. “That never really happened; it was around three months, but it’s gone well beyond that now. There are delays in reimbursement, because of the influx of people ahead of the Brexit deadline in March,” he said. “It’s been extended now, but, at the time, they weren’t sure. There was a fierce fear that the initiative was going to suddenly end,” he added.

Deputy Collins said that he had to double the number of buses travelling to Belfast, due to demand. Cataract surgery costs €1,700 per eye and €150 for a consultation.

Some people who require surgery on both eyes are struggling to raise funds for a second surgery, because of the reimbursement delays.

“The HSE have to provide more staff for the CBD. They have to step up to the mark and address this backlog quickly,” Deputy Collins said. While patients can travel to Belfast to undergo cataract surgery without clearance from the HSE, that is not the case for more expensive knee- and hip-replacement surgeries.

There is a concern that this clearance will now also be delayed, due to the backlog in reimbursement claims and lack of staff.

Since the CBD was set up, in 2014, €15m has been spent on treating 5,400 patients.

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