‘OKAY so what would a united Ireland be like?’
It’s a fair point.
If you ask people on either side of the border what they want, decent healthcare is near the top of the list.
In the North, we have the National Health Service – free at the point of use, paid for through taxation and, on its, day capable of delivering world class treatment.
The problem is that those days are fewer and farther between that they used to be.
One in three people in Northern Ireland languishes on a waiting list – with some stuck in limbo for years.
It’s said that as many as 10 per cent of treatments are now carried out privately.
While the ongoing hiatus at Stormont compounds the problem, with crucial decisions about the health service just not being made.
Down south, there are similar pressures, with too few hospitals.
But the big difference is you have to pay to see a GP.
Granted, taxes are lower, while wages and benefits are higher.
That said, there is lots of chatter in Westminster about introducing charges to see GPs.
Seven per cent of Brits admit to using private healthcare in the past two years, (many in sheer frustration at not being able to get an appointment with a GP).
Apart from these differences, both systems are broadly similar.
For example, the training of staff – specialists, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals (radiographers and the like) - is similar across the island of Ireland.
This sees health professionals moving between the two systems throughout their careers, providing a strong basis for building a single Irish healthcare model.
Again, in terms of international rankings, both systems perform about the same.
If there is a difference, it’s that life expectancy in southern Ireland is two years longer for both men and women that it is in Northern Ireland.
Also, healthcare workers are paid more down south.
Unionists often say that the NHS is one of the main benefits of remaining in the UK and complain that universal access to treatment would be lost in a united Ireland.
But these are crocodile tears.
The DUP propped-up the Conservative government between 2017-19 when it was running down the British NHS with botched reforms and chronic underfunding.
While the Northern Ireland bit is, by a country mile, the worst-performing part.
Down south, the Sláintecare proposals from the Oireachtas a few years ago, looking at improving access to care and reducing up-front costs, would move the Irish system much closer to the model of the British NHS.
Anyway, the campaign group, Ireland’s Future, recently published a paper calling for an ‘Irish National Health Service.’
Although there was growing cross border co-operation in areas like cancer care and emergency services, ‘every area of healthcare would be improved if there was an all-island approach’.
Quite sensibly, the paper calls for all decisions about healthcare over the next decade – North and south – to be properly joined-up.
Might the creation of a new, all-Ireland model – one that embraces the British principle of universal coverage, but is better managed and resourced – help to convince both wavering unionists and sceptical southerners about the benefits of Irish unity?