Any Brexit scenario will mean considerable change and impact for Ireland. The Government remains firmly of the view that ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed between the EU and the UK remains the best way to ensure an orderly UK exit. At its meeting on 11 December 2018, the Government decided to give greater immediate priority to the preparations for a no deal Brexit. This is being co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and involves all Government Departments and agencies.
The Department of Health, the HSE and other Health Agencies have been taking forward detailed Brexit preparedness and contingency work related to the impacts in the area of health of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, with or without a deal, including proposed legislative provisions. A number of issues are being examined and contingency planning for a range of eventualities is underway. A key issue will be to ensure that there is minimum disruption to health services and that essential existing services are maintained on a cross-Border, all-island and Ireland-UK basis. Protecting and maintaining the Common Travel Area and the associated rights and privileges is a key part of this process.
The Department and its Agencies particularly the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and the HSE have been in regular contact with stakeholders to assess the level of preparedness for a no deal Brexit. It is important to state that while the Department continues to monitor and seek assurances in a number of areas, our current analysis is that there are no immediate risks to the health of the population because of Brexit.
The Department of Health has strengthened its internal capacity to plan for Brexit. The Secretary General meets with the heads of the HSE, the HPRA and the FSAI weekly to review progress on Brexit preparedness and to consider any new challenges identified. A Brexit Operations Team has also been established in my Department, chaired by a Deputy Secretary General and comprised of senior officials from the Department, HSE, HPRA and the FSAI. This group works to resolve issues and to escalate them to the Heads of Agency group, chaired by the Secretary General, if necessary. An inter-agency communications group, chaired by my Department, has been established to plan for all aspects of a communications strategy to ensure that the public is fully informed of the health implications of either a central case Brexit or a no deal Brexit. A further working group is working to identify and monitor medicines that may be vulnerable to supply disruption as a result of Brexit.
The Irish and British Governments have committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area and its associated rights and privileges. These arrangements facilitate access to health services in the UK and Ireland, including access to emergency, routine and planned healthcare. My Department, as part of the cross-government approach to contingency planning, has prepared heads of a bill which is consistent with our commitment to provide for the rights and privileges of the Common Travel Area. The proposed legislation would allow the Minister for Health and the HSE, as appropriate, to cover the cost of healthcare provided in the UK under the same conditions as currently e.g. where treatments are not provided under our own healthcare system or for an Irish person who becomes ill while on a visit to the UK and needs immediate health care there.
I am satisfied that all necessary contingency arrangements are being made to mitigate, in so far as possible, the risks to the health sector of a no deal Brexit.