‘Cataracts express’ service in doubt amid funding uncertainty 

‘Cataracts express’ service in doubt amid funding uncertainty 


The future of the ‘cataracts express’ service to the North is in doubt because no commitment has been made to keep funding it.

The coach service to and from Belfast carries people from Co Cork and Co Kerry who have been stuck on HSE waiting lists for urgent cataract operations, as well as hip and knee procedures.

People who take the trips, which are organised by Independent TDs Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae, can get the procedures done in the North and reclaim the cost of their treatment from the HSE.

Up until January, the cost was covered was under the Cross Border Directive on Healthcare.

Since Brexit, people must use the Northern Ireland Planned Healthcare Scheme to get treated in Northern Ireland.

The scheme was set up on a temporary basis, and the HSE has so far been unable to say if it will be continued. Added to that, this scheme is dependent on demand which has dropped dramatically during the pandemic.

“I am worried about the future of the scheme,” Danny Healy-Rae said.

“We still don’t know what is going to happen despite asking repeatedly.

“It is a fact that the health of people waiting for too long for care on the HSE is being damaged as a result and they need to get treated elsewhere.

“They don’t need the extra anxiety of not having a commitment in place for the future of the scheme.”

Reimbursement costs under the CBD scheme, which people use to get the treatment in the EU that they are on a HSE waiting list for, dropped to €11.9m in 2020 for 3,655 reimbursements.

It fell even further to €4.4m for 1,081 reimbursements this year so far. These figures are from a high of €16.5m in 2019 for 6,013 reimbursements.

However, according to the latest figures for NIPHS reimbursements, just €55,568 has been reimbursed to people using this scheme to get treatment in Northern Ireland.

The ‘cataracts express’ service was the brainchild of Cork’s Jerry Harrington.

His late father John Patrick was 90 when he had to be driven to Belfast to get cataract operations done or face blindness on a four-year-waiting list with the HSE.

After hearing about the CPD scheme from Mr Collins TD, Mr Harrington decided to launch what became the ‘cataracts express’ to help pensioners get the care they were waiting for.


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Elena Johaness

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