Children in Ireland are dependants of their parents and have the same entitlement to health services as their parents. This means that if your parents have a medical card, you are included as a dependant on that card and are entitled to the same range of services as your parents.
At the same time, there is a range of services specifically for children and certain services are provided free of charge for children even if their parents do not have a medical card. These services are generally provided as part of maternity and infant welfare services, health services for preschool children and school health services. Children are also entitled to vaccination and immunisation services free of charge.
Children may be treated in public or private hospitals on the same basis as adults. There are a number of specialist children's hospitals. Entitlement to hospital services is the same in these hospitals as in public and voluntary hospitals generally. These hospitals provide in-patient services, out-patient services, day care, accident and emergency services and specialist services for children.
If children are admitted to hospital for treatment of defects discovered at child and school health examinations, they do not have to pay the usual in-patient public hospital charges.
There is no one age at which a child ceases to be a child for the purposes of health services but 16 is the more usual cut-off point.
If you are over 16 years of age and are a student or are financially dependent on your parents, you are entitled to medical card services if they possess a medical card. This means that you will be included on their medical card if you live at home and you will get your own card if you live away from home. In the medical card means test, there is an allowance for children aged over 16. This allowance is doubled if the child is in third-level education and is not getting a grant. This arrangement applies to young people up to the age of 25.
People who are receiving the Disability Allowance get a medical card in their own right. Young people may qualify for this allowance from the age of 16.
Children who are fostered all have individual medical cards. This is the case regardless of the entitlements of their foster parents. Read more about fostering in Ireland here.
Children may be regarded as dependants up to age 18 (or 23 if in full-time education) for the purposes of the prescribed drugs and medicines maximum family spending.
Children of any age who are mentally or physically disabled to such an extent that it is not reasonably possible for them to maintain themselves fully and who are living at home may also be regarded as dependants for the prescribed drugs and medicines arrangements.
Children may be charged reduced premiums on their parents' private health insurance arrangements up to age 18 (or 21 if in full time education).
In general, children over the age of 16 may themselves give consent to surgical procedures. It is the practice to get parental consent to medical procedures for children under that age even though it is not entirely clear that parents have the ultimate decision. In a recent court case, the Supreme Court ruled that only in exceptional circumstances would the court intervene to make an order that was contrary to the decision of parents regarding procedures for their children.
So, in general, parental consent is required for children to have medical and surgical tests and procedures and to receive vaccinations and inoculations. Read more about consent to medical and surgical procedures here.
The Health Act 1970 is the principal legislation providing for children's health services in Ireland. Section 66 of Health Act 1970 provides that the Health Service Executive (HSE) is obliged to make available free of charge at clinics, health centres or other places a health examination and treatment service for children aged under 6 and for pupils attending national schools. Section 66 of that Act also allows for other schools to request the service and the HSE has the discretion to extend the service to such schools.
The legislation does not specify precisely what services are to be provided. In practice, the services include immunisation services, developmental paediatric examinations, visits by public health nurses, child welfare clinics and school health examinations.
Section 67 of the Health Act 1970 provides that the HSE must provide dental, ophthalmic and aural treatment and appliances in respect of defects discovered at school health examinations set out under Section 66 of the same Act.
The Health (Amendment) Act 1994 provides that the HSE must provide free dental services for children who have attended schools to which Section 66 applied and who are below a certain age.
SI 248/2000 Health (Dental Services for Children) Regulations 2000 sets the age limit at 15 years and provides that the children in question must get a preventive dental treatment service in addition to a dental health screening service and primary care treatment in respect of defects discovered.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.