In fairness to the Minister, he has always said he would continue to support the cross-border health directive. The Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme has been in process since late last year. This has made a difference to many people’s lives, as the Minister is aware. Many of the contributors to the committee told us about the difference the scheme made to their lives and how it allowed them to continue in different forms of work. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me mention a particular sector, namely, the Defence Forces and the PDFORRA medical assistance scheme, PMAS. The Defence Forces wrote to the Department in 2019 regarding the formal recognition of PMAS. I ask the Minister to comment on whether he will formally recognise the scheme. He is aware of the massive contribution it has made to the Defence Forces in retaining personnel. Well over 300 personnel have used PMAS and continue to work in the Defence Forces. The Minister has taken every opportunity to state it is important that we retain as many personnel as possible in the Defence Forces. I am sure those who administer PMAS would be grateful if he could acknowledge that and, more important, secure financial support for it. As they develop the scheme and roll it out to the families of Defence Forces personnel, it will be very welcome. The cross-border healthcare directive has made a huge difference. The Minister’s acknowledgement again this evening that it will continue will be welcomed by all members of the committee.
Although the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme had initially been introduced on an administrative basis, I wish to assure Senators that placing the scheme on a statutory basis remains a priority. An extensive examination of options to inform the drafting of a general scheme is currently being finalised. In the meantime, the administrative scheme will remain until such time as the statutory scheme is in place. I understand that almost 4,000 reimbursements have been made so far for persons who accessed healthcare in Northern Ireland 2021. Overall, this equates to a reimbursement cost of about €7 million.
I am aware of the Defence Forces issue and the PMAS programme, and the need for us to work with the Defence Forces. I am committed to talking to representative bodies regarding that. I thank Senator Wall for raising this issue. It is not the first time he has done so.