General Practitioners (GPs) provide services to medical card holders free of charge. GPs in the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme enter into contracts with the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide services.
Patients may generally choose their doctor from a panel of doctors who are part of the scheme, provided the doctor is willing to have them as patients. In general, services must be provided by your own doctor but there are arrangements for emergencies and for moving out of your area.
Doctors must treat medical card patients in the same way as they treat private patients.
When you apply for a medical card, you choose a doctor that is taking part in the scheme and ask the doctor to sign your application form to accept you as a patient. Contact your Local Health Office for details of GPs in your area.
If you have a medical card and you want to change your doctor, you complete a Change of Doctor form (pdf) giving details of the new doctor.
Medical cards may be issued for a limited period with a review date on the card. In general, that means that the HSE will look again to see if you are still entitled to a card. It does not usually involve choosing a doctor again.
The GP's contract with the HSE specifies the range of services that the doctor must provide for medical card holders. Broadly speaking, these services must be provided at the same level and on the same basis as services to the GP's private patients. This means that, for example, surgery times must be the same for all patients, access to home visits must be the same, etc.
Among the services that the GP must provide for medical card holders are:
There are certain services that GPs are not obliged to provide free of charge, for example, eye tests for a driving licence or reports for life assurance. You may also be charged for medical certificates for absence from work. If you need a medical report to apply for a social welfare payment, the Department of Social Protection may cover the fee.
GPs in the GMS scheme are expected to provide or arrange for the provision of appropriate emergency services for their own medical card patients. Rota systems may exist to provide cross-cover arrangements with other doctors in out-of-hours situations.
If you move from one Local Health Office area to another you do not have to re-apply for a new GP visit card. You should contact your new Local Health Office which can give you information about the GPs practising in the new area you live in.
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.