Healthcare services in Ireland
Both private and public healthcare services are available in Ireland.
Private healthcare 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 private healthcare.
Public health services are supported by the State. Many public health services are free of charge but in some cases there may be a fee.
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 have been living in Ireland for at least a year or you intend to live here for at least one year. This is called being ordinarily resident in Ireland.
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 (family doctors)
General Practitioners (GPs) are family doctors. A GP is often the first doctor people see about a health problem.
You can find a GP in your area using the HSE Service Finder Map. Some GPs will also arrange home visits.
GPs provide referrals to more specialised doctors called consultants. You cannot see a consultant for the first time without a referral from a GP.
If you need to see a GP outside clinic hours, you can contact your local GP out of hours service.
Medical cards and GP visit cards
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, people who are entitled to a card under EU regulations).
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.
GP visit card
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.
All children under the age of 6 can get a GP visit card. The GP visit card is available to everyone aged over 70, without an income test.
Pharmacies and prescribed drugs
Your pharmacist (or chemist, as they are also known) provides drugs and medicines. They can offer you advice and can also guide you to other health professionals or community services, if you need them.
You can find your local pharmacy using the HSE’s interactive service finder map.
There is a set prescription charge for medical card holders. If you don’t have a medical card, the Drugs Payment Scheme limits the amount you spend on prescribed drugs. People suffering from certain conditions can get free medicines for the treatment of those conditions under the Long Term Illness Scheme.
Some pharmacies offer a pharmacy-based needle exchange which allows you to pick up sterile injecting equipment and return used items. They can also refer you to appropriate services like addiction treatment and counselling centres.
Local health centres
There are local health centers in each area that provide different health services. The range of services provided varies in different areas but can include nursing care, chiropody, speech therapy, physiotherapy, mental health services and more.
You can access community health and personal social services through your Local Health Office.
Sometimes health services can be provided in your own home. If you aged 65 or over or have a disability, you may be able to get support at home through the Home Support Service.
You can be referred to hospital as a public patient or as a private patient. This section gives an introduction to this system. You can read detailed information about hospital charges.
You may use hospital services as an out-patient or an in-patient.
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.
The range of health services provided by the HSE includes:
Tax relief and other supports
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.
How to make a complaint about a healthcare provider
There is a complaints system for public health services that are provided by or on behalf of the HSE.
If you are making a complaint about a private health service, you can complain directly to the private service provider or contact the regulating body. You do not have the option of complaining to the HSE or to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children.