There are three different types of hospital provision in Ireland:
Public health services are provided in HSE hospitals and public voluntary hospitals and in practice there is very little difference between these two types of hospital. Most of these hospitals also provide private health care but they must clearly distinguish between public and private beds.
There are a number of purely private hospitals that operate independently of state health services. If you opt for private care in a private hospital, you must pay the full cost of treatment and maintenance.
Acute hospital services diagnose, treat and care for seriously ill or injured patients. Acute hospital services are provided in HSE hospitals, public voluntary hospitals and private hospitals. Some hospitals are specialist, for example, maternity or psychiatric hospitals, while others are general.
The large general and regional hospitals provide a broad range of services. Smaller local hospitals may not be able to cater for all illnesses and treatments and you may have to be transferred to a larger hospital or to a specialist hospital.
In-patient services are institutional services provided for people in hospitals, convalescent homes or homes for people with physical or mental disabilities. Day-case treatment is regarded as an in-patient service but you do not stay in hospital overnight.
Out-patient services are generally taken to include accident and emergency services as well as planned services provided on an out-patient basis. For example, you may be referred by your family doctor (GP) for specialist assessment by a consultant or his or her team or for diagnostic assessments such as x-rays or laboratory tests or for treatment such as physiotherapy.
As a public patient, you do not have to pay for consultants' services and you do not have a choice of consultants. In many areas, there are waiting lists for non-emergency services. Information on waiting times for in-patient treatment is available online.
If you choose to be a private patient in a public hospital, you become the private patient of the consultant treating you and you must pay for all consultant services provided to you. There is also a set daily charge for private patients in public hospitals.
Private hospitals are free to set their own charges to patients. Private health insurance may cover some or all of the costs involved.
Deaf and hard of hearing patients are entitled to interpretation services in public hospitals in Ireland. You should notify the hospital that you are deaf or hard of hearing in advance of your visit so they can make any necessary arrangements. Further information regarding these services is available from the Director of Disability Services at your Local Health Office.
Public and voluntary hospitals are subject to Freedom of Information legislation. This means, among other things, that they are obliged to publish information about their structures, services and practices. If the hospital holds personal information about you, you can access those records.
See our document on hospital charges for details of the charges that may apply and who is exempt from charges.
You should obtain a letter of referral from your GP if you need to receive hospital treatment. You can attend accident and emergency departments in most general hospitals and some specialist hospitals without a letter of referral but you may be charged for your visit.
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.