With 1.6 million people living in the border regions, the economic impact of Brexit will increase deprivation rates and isolation with consequent impact on the health of individuals in the border area.
Ahead of its presentation, the IMO said the biggest challenges posed by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will be ensuring ongoing and future collaboration in the field of healthcare and ensuring timely and seamless access to care for patients in the border areas.
The Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT) partnership between health and social care services in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland facilitates a number of successful collaborative projects in healthcare in the border regions, managing funding from the EU INTERREG Programme, many of which have resulted in longer term service level agreements.
Other cross-border service level agreements exist as a result of collaboration and capital investment from both sides of the border. These include radiation oncology services and emergency cardiology services at Altnagelvin Hospital as well as the provision of all-island paediatric cardiac surgery services for children with congenital heart disease at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin.
An increasing number of patients have taken advantage of the patients’ rights in cross-border care regulations with 700 patients accessing care in Northern Ireland last year.
Currently, there are 3,196 doctors registered with the General Medical Council in the UK who received their primary medical degree in Ireland, while 742 doctors registered with the Medical Council in Ireland received their primary medical degree in the UK.
In its submission to the Committee, the IMO stressed that cross-border co-operation is also essential regarding emergency planning and response, particularly in the areas of control of outbreaks of infectious diseases, which may have a cross-border dimension.
Commenting ahead of the presentation, Dr Ann Hogan, President of the IMO, said: “Regardless of how hard or soft, a future border will be in place, impeding the free movement of patients, ambulances and doctors across the border. Common European regulations regarding pharmaceuticals, medical devices and data protection may no longer apply. Legislation which has aided the movement of healthcare professionals may no longer apply.
“In addition to the rights of doctors to work in both jurisdictions, the automatic recognition of medical qualifications will no longer apply. Bureaucracy will affect both the flow and training of medical professionals between both jurisdictions. We cannot be complacent and assume that cooperation will continue into the future once the UK has left the EU. Planning must begin immediately.”
Dr Hogan said, “There is already a crisis in manpower in the Irish health system and any fluctuation in this will adversely affect the situation.”
The IMO is recommending proactive and careful planning to ensure that collaboration in the area of healthcare continues and develops into the future and the establishment of a cross-border committee to examine the impact of Brexit on existing and future cross-border health services.
It also recommends that regulatory bodies in Ireland and the UK work closely together to ensure the recognition of qualifications and to facilitate the movement of medical and other healthcare professionals across jurisdictions avoiding duplication of legal requirements.