A new hospital has officially opened in Spain, with dedicated use for treating patients on long public waiting lists in Ireland, as part of a major new healthcare agreement.

Patients will be treated under the EU Cross Border Directive, whereby the Health Service Executive covers the price of treatment up to the cost it would be in Ireland.

The new 64-bed hospital is Hospital HCB Dénia in Costa Blanca, Alicante.

Initially, around 1,500 Irish patients will get routine planned surgeries each year at the facility.

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Almost every treatment that is currently available on the Irish public system will be provided at the new hospital.

Patients pay for their own flight and accommodation costs.

The deal has been agreed by the Hospital Clinical Benidorm Hospitales group (HCB) and Healthcare Abroad, an Irish logistics company which assist the patients to use the scheme, travel and have their care at the new facility.

The hospital is expected to perform a large number of hip replacements, knee operations, spinal procedures, cataract procedures, weight-loss surgeries and other treatments.

Almost every treatment currently available on the Irish public system will be provided at the hospital

Healthcare Abroad's Chief Operations Officer Paul Byrne said the partnership with one of Spain's premier hospital groups will transform the lives of many Irish patients, facilitating a faster pathway to access important healthcare treatments which will have an immediate impact on their quality of life.

Ana Vasbinder of HCB Dénia said today's opening will provide patients with access to world-class facilities and will be a home away from home for Irish patients.

The number of patients covered by the HSE under the Cross Border Directive has increased in recent years and was not heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the HSE said that 4,961 patients were reimbursed for care abroad at a cost of over €13 million.

In 2020, despite the pandemic, 4,723 patients were covered for care abroad at a cost of €15m.

Last year, the activity was somewhat affected by the pandemic and the number of patients covered reduced to 1,914 at a cost of €7.8m.

So far this year, just under 600 patients have been approved for treatment abroad at a cost to date of over €2m.

Hip replacements, knee operations and cataract procedures will be available

The main EU countries where Irish people seek treatment under the scheme are Spain, Poland, Lithuania and Germany.

Catherine Donohoe of the HSE Acute Hospitals Division said that the pandemic had a modest impact on the numbers getting treatment and dealing with the backlog of reimbursements to get through.

She that said that in general Covid-19 and the pandemic did not have a huge impact on people travelling for necessary healthcare.

Patients needing essential certified care were permitted to travel during Covid restrictions.

Ms Donohoe said that when people need care and they are on a waiting list, or trying to avoid a waiting list, they will happily use the Cross Border Directive.

The numbers availing of the service are expected to increase in the years ahead, with the new Spanish deal and as people become more familiar with the scheme.

The HCB Hospitales, Spanish hospital group, is internationally accredited by the Joint Commission International, which is awarded to high class medical facilities around the world.

The launch of the new hospital this morning

Read more: How patients get healthcare abroad funded by the HSE?