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Dairy Farmer From Kerry Travels to Belfast Under NI Planned Healthcare Scheme

20th, Aug 2021

A farmer has revealed how he made trips from west Kerry to Belfast for knee surgery as Covid-19 raged and hospitals here cancelled thousands of operations for waiting list patients.

Gerard Ashe (65) from Lispole in the Dingle peninsula struggled to manage his farm as he desperately needed two knee replacements.

“I had to count my steps and the quickest way to do the job because my knees would not stand the pressure, said Gerard, who has a 62-acre dairy and mixed farm.

He was on a waiting list at University Hospital Kerry, but when the pandemic struck it had to drastically scale back services to concentrate on infection control and care for Covid-19 patients – leaving waiting list patients facing into many months of misery.

His daughters Geraldine, Deirdre and Grainne, who were trying to keep the farm running, witnessed his pain.

They could see his distress and decided to try to get him treated through the cross-border directive, which has been rechristened the Northern Ireland Planned Health System after Brexit.

It involves a patient here getting a referral from a consultant here to a hospital in Northern Ireland, mainland UK or an EU country.

“That was in May 2020 and Dad was in a wheelchair,” Geraldine said.

“Within a week he had a referral to the Kingsbridge hospital in Belfast and we travelled for the pre-assessment."

“He had his first knee replacement in October and I cannot speak highly enough about the care in the Kingsbridge hospital.”

Under the scheme, the patient pays the cost of the procedure upfront – in this case €11,500 – but it is reimbursed by the HSE.

“The second knee replacement was done in February this year,” said Geraldine, who works as a special needs assistant.

“That coincided with peak time on the farm for cows calving, but the girls took over.

“Dad was in the hospital bed and watching the calving on his phone.”

Gerard said he is very grateful to the doctors, nurses and other staff at Kingsbridge hospital and appealed to fellow farmers and waiting list patients not to suffer in silence and avail of the scheme if they can.

“I feel 10 years younger and am pain free,” he said.

The HSE said 4,707 reimbursements worth €15m were made to patients who travelled to Northern Ireland or the UK last year. The most up-to-date figures for 2021 show 1,081 reimbursements of €4.3m.

The main treatments people are getting are hip or knee replacements, keyhole surgery to diagnose or treat problems with joints, ear nose and throat procedures, gynaecological procedures and spinal procedures.

The Kerry Healy-Rae TD brothers have arranged buses to Belfast for patients needing cataract surgery.

Article by Eilish O'Regan, Irish Independent   

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