Both private and public health services are available in Ireland.
Private health services are provided by individual health professionals or healthcare companies. You usually pay the full cost of private health services. You can take out private health insurance to help meet the cost of medical expenses.
Public services are supported by the State. The Health Service Executive (HSE) is responsible for the delivery of public health services. Sometimes the HSE provides these services directly and sometimes the HSE funds other organisations to provide these services.
You are covered by public health services if you are living in Ireland and have lived here, or intend to live here, for at least one year. This is called being ordinarily resident in Ireland. Read more information about ordinary residency and public health services here.
Some visitors may be entitled to public health services, for example, people from other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) or from Switzerland.
If you are resident in Ireland you can access healthcare in Europe.
General Practitioners (GPs) are family doctors. A GP is often the first doctor people see about a health problem. GPs are usually part of the private healthcare system and so you will usually need to pay charges when you see a GP. You can see a GP without being charged for the visit if you have a medical card or a GP Visit Card.
GPs provide referrals to more specialised doctors called consultants. You cannot see a consultant for the first time without a referral from a GP.
Some GPs will also call to your home if you are sick. Often, a number of GPs in an area will arrange to make a service available at night or at the weekend.
If your income is below a certain level you may get a medical card. (Some people can get a card without an income test, for example, children who have cancer.)
The medical card covers the cost of prescription medicines but you pay a set charge when you get the medicines – this prescription charge is the same for each item.
If your income is above the limit for a medical card, you may be able to get a GP visit card. It has an income test with a higher limit. The GP visit card only covers free visits to your family doctor. The income test isn’t required for anyone under the age of 6 or over the age of 70 – everyone in these age groups can get a GP visit card.
You can access community health and personal social services through the Local Health Office for your area. These services are provided by a number of Local Health Centres in each area. The range of services provided varies in different areas but includes nursing care, chiropody, speech therapy, physiotherapy, mental health services and more. Sometimes health services can be provided in your own home. For older people or people with disabilities, it may also be possible for the health centre to organise help with housework through a home help service.
You can be referred to hospital as a public patient or as a private patient. You may use hospital services as an outpatient or an inpatient. This section gives an introduction to this system. You can read detailed information about hospital charges here.
You may be referred by your family doctor (GP) to the out-patient department of a public hospital, for example, to be seen by a specialist consultant or for diagnostic tests like x-rays.
Accident and emergency services are outpatient services and if you are referred by a GP there is no charge. If you visit an accident and emergency department without being referred by a GP there is a set charge.
To visit a consultant (medical specialist) you must be referred by a GP. As a public patient, you do not have to pay for the consultant’s services and you do not get to choose your consultant. In many areas, there are waiting lists for non-emergency services.
If you choose to be referred to a consultant as a private patient, you pay for the consultant’s services. Private hospitals set their own charges. If you have private health insurance, it may cover some or all of the charges.
You may be admitted to hospital as an in-patient under the care of a consultant.
If you are in a public hospital as a public patient, and you do not have a medical card, there is a set daily in-patient charge. There is maximum limit to how much you will be charged over a 12-month period.
If you are admitted to a public hospital as a private patient of a consultant, you pay a different daily in-patient hospital charge.
There is a set prescription charge for medical card holders. If you don’t have a medical card, you can get help with the cost of prescribed medicines under the Drugs Payment Scheme. People suffering from certain conditions can get free medicines for the treatment of those conditions under the Long Term Illness Scheme.
The range of health services provided by the HSE includes:
There is a complaints system for public health services that are provided by or on behalf of the HSE.
For information about making a complaint about a private health service, visit healthcomplaints.ie, a website which provides information on how to make a complaint or give feedback about health and social care services.
You can claim tax relief on medical expenses. There are a number of tax credits and reliefs for people with disabilities.
There are social welfare benefits for people who are sick or have a disability. There are also payments and benefits for carers.
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.