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Uncertain times

The news of the UK’s vote in favour of leaving the European Union has dominated the news, and the potential implications for our health service are a cause for serious concern. Recent years have seen an increase in cross-border healthcare projects and a strong relationship with mainland UK in relation to specialist niche care for some patients, as well as organ transplant agreements and termination services for pregnant women with diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities. New healthcare projects such as the National Children’s Hospital are supposed to be ‘all-island’ services, and, as we report in this issue, preliminary talks have taken place on a potential all-island emergency aeromedical service. So what happens now? The truth is, we don’t know and won’t know for some time, so we have now entered a period of unwelcome uncertainty, while the Department of Health seeks to ensure the continuation of the aforementioned co-operative healthcare arrangements between the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Further bad news emerged with the revelations of significant financial irregularities in the suicide charity Console. The sheer scale of the salary payments, expenses, unvouched cash withdrawals and expenditure on items such as clothes, entertainment and travel by the now-departed CEO and his family members have beggared belief, as has the fact that question marks about the charity’s finances were raised many years before the latest revelations. The scandal is yet another heavy blow to the healthcare  charity sector, which is still recovering from the Rehab and CRC scandals.

While there have been some positive changes in the sector in recent years, it is clear much more needs to be done, and far more checks and balances must take place to avoid similar scandals in the future and to restore confidence and trust in the sector.

In other news, last week saw the publication, for the first time, of the payments that pharmaceutical companies make to healthcare professionals, healthcare providers and medical bodies in Ireland.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) published details of ‘transfers of value’  totalling €27.2 million in 2015. The figures show the dependency of the medical arena on pharmaceutical funding for everything from attending medical conferences home and abroad, sponsoring education events and funding research and actual front-line services. Such transparency is very welcome, though the fact that only 55 per cent of healthcare professionals consented to having their details published shows there is still considerable unease and concern in the medical community about making such information public.

On the plus side, this week sees the kick-off of the 2016 World Medical Football Championship in Barcelona, 9-16 July. The Medical Independent wishes the best of luck to the Irish Medical Football Team, who last year achieved a seventh-place finish. Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!

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