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European Court ruling strengthens argument for all-Ireland health service

17 May, 2006

A ruling by the European Court of Justice stating that health service patients forced to wait longer than they should for medical treatment are entitled to reclaim the cost of being treated in other European countries will have far-reaching consequences for both health departments across Ireland, according to Sinn Féin health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA.

The court was ruling in the case of Yvonne Watts, 75, from England, who paid £3,900 for a hip operation in France.

The European Court of Justice said the health service must refund costs if patients waited longer than clinicians advised, even if waiting time targets were met.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"This ruling will have far-reaching and positive benefits for people living in either the Six Counties or the Twenty-six Counties. It will also mean that both health departments on this island must now stop paying lip service to the establishment of an all-Ireland health service and start taking positive and concrete steps to make the creation of a single health service on the island of Ireland a reality.

"The harmonisation of health services on an all-Ireland basis would deliver major benefits for tens of thousands of people across Ireland. This is about ensuring the free-flow of patients, based on clinical need, from one part of the country to the other. It is about removing unnecessary impediments, which are preventing the harmonisation of health systems on the island, and delivering a modern, flexible service fit for purpose that can cater for the needs of all.

"The onus must now be on both the Irish and British governments to push forward with the implementation of all those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement relating to health issues as a matter of urgency, irrespective of what is or is not going to happen at Stormont." ENDS

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