Hopes of preserving EU funding for cross-border health initiatives between Northern Ireland and the Republic following Brexit, have been buoyed
The EC (European Commission) has said that a commitment to continued funding would form a central part of the next MFF (Multiannual Financial Framework), which sets out the EU’s annual general budget.
Since the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, the BMA has consistently warned of the risks to healthcare posed by a return to hard borders and an end to mutually recognised medical qualifications.
In its Brexit manifesto, the BMA has called for the UK and EU to ensure ongoing cross-border cooperation in healthcare between Northern Ireland and the Republic remain in place, with lobbying efforts including a recent presentation to the European Parliament in November and a presentation to the Irish Seanad.
In a speech given to the commission on 17 January EC president Jean Claude Juncker said that guaranteeing EU financial support was crucial to maintaining the peace process in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Set to be discussed in May, the MFF determines budgets and spending plans for the EU for the next seven years.
He said: ‘When it comes to the issue of Ireland in these [Brexit] negotiations, Europe is united. It is all for one and one for all.
‘I see no more important use of our new budget than guaranteeing and financing the peace process in Ireland. This is an unconditional European commitment. This is what the Commission will deliver with our proposal for the next MFF in May.’
BMA Northern Ireland council chair John D Woods said he welcomed the EC’s announcement that acknowledge the importance of maintaining funding for cross-border initiatives.
He said: ‘It is very reassuring to hear that the EC takes the matter of funding for initiatives that support the peace process, such as cross-border health agreements, as a matter of vital importance.
‘This pledge will go some way to reassuring both patients and doctors on both sides of the border who depend upon these co-operative arrangements in healthcare.’
Shared, cross-border health services between Northern Ireland and the Republic are commonplace, with doctors and patients from both countries able to work in or access healthcare in the other.
Last November the EU allocated nearly €9m in funding towards the CAWT (Co-operation and Working Together) health and social care partnership, which supports collaborative, cross-border health services between the two countries.
A total of more than €40m has been invested in to the CAWT project since 2002, while a further €53m has been provided towards the development of acute hospital services, preventive medicine and tackling health inequalities.