A major new report from a human rights watchdog in Northern Ireland has revealed the complex nature of cross-border healthcare in the wake of Brexit.
The 44-page study, carried out by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, highlights the need for greater clarity on the provision of healthcare on the island of Ireland and the rights of cross-border workers to access treatment.
Post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, designed to avoid a hard border on the island, remain controversial, with the UK government planning to introduce legislation to roll back parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Opposition to the protocol led the DUP to block the restoration of power sharing in the region.
While for “the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland the right to access healthcare remains intact”, the report notes that significant uncertainties and complexities remain since the UK’s exit from the EU. .
The Covid-19 pandemic, the report says, has exposed some of the issues faced by workers who live in the Republic while working in Northern Ireland.
While these workers can in theory access health care on either side of the border, the report notes that this has often not happened during Covid-19 vaccination programs.
“What really happened was that they weren’t called for the vaccination because there was a perception that the right to vaccination was based on residency.
“Subsequently, those who managed to access the vaccination (because they were entitled to it) were unable to register for the UK’s Covid vaccination ‘passport’, because again, the “digital infrastructure around the passport was entirely residency-based,” the report says.
“The relevant health and social care infrastructure in Northern Ireland and Ireland may not be sufficiently suited to manage the situation of cross-border workers under the Withdrawal Agreement,” the report notes. .
To address these issues, the report calls for the infrastructure of the NHS to be adjusted so that healthcare for cross-border workers is “underpinned by consistent administrative practice”.
The commission also calls on the authorities to provide “accurate information in plain language” so that the public is aware of their rights.