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Speaking to MI at the annual National Transplant Society Meeting in Dublin on 23 September, Minister Harris said he is committed to “ploughing on” in developing North-South collaboration on healthcare provision alongside Northern Ireland Minister for Health Michelle O’Neill.
“One of the areas where we want to look at greater levels of co-ordination is in the area of transplantation and trying to put in place a transplant corridor [between Belfast and Dublin],” he told MI.
According to Minister Harris, this would involve “a greater flow of available organs between the North and the South but also the expertise. It is at a very early stage and we are planning on holding a workshop in the autumn.
“We have also asked, on a broader level, both our officials in the Northern Ireland department and in my own Department to carry out a scoping exercise in terms of further areas of North-South co-operation in terms of healthcare. This is a small island and there are some things they do extremely well there and some things we do extremely well here.”
He said any difficulties posed by Brexit would be met as they arose. “But we believe any challenges can be overcome. I suppose they are additional challenges you’d prefer not to have,” he conceded.
Speaking earlier at the conference, Minister Harris said cross-border co-operation in transplantation would derive benefits for patients on both sides of the border.
During the event, the development of more formal North-South collaboration was strongly supported by Prof David Healy, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at the Mater Hospital, Dublin and President of the National Transplant Society; and by Mr Tim Brown, Renal Transplant Surgeon at Belfast City Hospital, who presented on transplantation post-Brexit.
Mr Brown told MI it is unclear what repercussions – if any – Brexit would have on transplant services. He noted that the EU Organ Donation Directive is enshrined in UK law and upheld by the UK Human Tissue Authority, “so in actual fact that is all in UK law anyway. I don’t think [the situation] will change that much post-Brexit”.