IF you ever discuss  a border poll with unionists, the chances are high that the health service will come top of their list of objections. “Sure you have to pay for everything in the Free State, even a visit to your GP. Up here we get to see our GP for nothing, and our whole medical care – hospitals, social care – the lot are covered by the NHS. The South could never match that”.

Oh, really?

Recently, a southern newspaper (astonishingly) used a Freedom of Information request to find out about medical waiting lists in the South and in the North. Here’s what was found.

Hospital waiting lists are twice as long in the North as in the South. When you draw a comparison between those waiting more than 12 months, there are more than four times as many people per million waiting north of the border than in the south.

“Ah yes – but if you visit your GP in the south, you have to put your hand in your pocket every time. In the North, we don’t pay a penny.”

That’s true. You’ll have to pay between €40 and €60 per GP visit in the south. But not if you’re under eight-years-old. And not if you’re 70 or older. So while it costs the broad population in the South,  the two groups that are most frequently found in a GP’s waiting room  – the young and the old – are given a  free ticket.

In addition, the South presently provides free health care for those most in need. 

We in the North have a passionate attachment to the NHS, regardless of political loyalties. But love, as they say, is blind. Those swearing by the NHS should consider what happens when you visit a dentist here. If you’re not in dire poverty, you’ll be coughing up sizeable sums for having your molars in fit chewing condition. Some dentists have costs on wall-charts in the waiting room. 

And your eyes? Sorry, chum. All glasses and contact lenses here are provided privately.  Time to reach for that trouser pocket again. Even for an eye test you’ll have to pay. And chances are your optician will suggest that when you’re at it, you have a scan of your eye – ar eagla na heagla – just to be sure to be sure. Once again, reach for your cheque-book. 

I have a daughter who’s a doctor in England and she insists the NHS is being systematically dismantled by the Tories and sold off to the highest bidder, often a big American company. When I was young, my mother in her more sober moods would wonder aloud how many Irish patriots would be in favour of abolishing the border if they no longer got “free teeth and free eyes”. Nowadays, there are few free teeth to be gnashed and fewer free specs for weeping eyes.

Here's something for NHS enthusiasts to ponder: in the South, health outcomes are better, access to treatment is better, life expectancy is higher. 

Virtually all political parties in the south have the goal of creating a universal health care system, free at the point of delivery. It’s what civilized states do. So to argue convincingly that the North’s health care system is massively superior to that of the South, you need a Donald Trump or a Boris Johnson, both shameless liars.