Making the choice to relocate abroad, be it long-term or short-term, brings with it a lot of logistical planning. A pretty much universal top priority is ensuring that your health will be taken care of in your new home and now more than ever, you’ll want to be thoroughly familiar with the health system and health insurance providers you’ll be placing your trust in. To help you out, here’s our handy beginners guide to navigating the Irish healthcare services.
Ireland has a mixed public and private healthcare system. The Health Service Executive (HSE), which is funded from taxes and subsidised fees, takes responsibility for the public sector. The HSE is divided into four administrative areas: West, South, and Dublin Mid-Leinster and Dublin North East. The majority of the hospitals are concentrated around the major urban centres of Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick, so be aware that if you are moving to a rural area you might be some distance from your closest medical centre.
All Irish residents are entitled to use the HSE’s services, however immigrants might be confused as to where they stand. In order to be considered resident by the HSE you must have been living in Ireland for a minimum of one year, or otherwise be able to provide proof that you are planning to remain in the country for one year. If you have any dependents, such as children, they must also confirm their eligible status with the HSE.
Citizens of the European Union or a member state of the European Economic Area (the E.U plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) who are also holders of The European Health Insurance Card may access the public system. It should be noted that if your EHIC card expires while you are in Ireland, you must be living in Ireland to have it renewed here. Swiss citizens are also entitled to an EHIC.
Owing to the Common Travel Area between the U.K and Ireland, U.K citizens may access public healthcare services if they can provide proof of citizenship. Brexit has not affected this so far, and the HSE have stated that ‘Both the Irish and British Governments are committed to maintaining, in so far as possible, the current healthcare arrangements’.
Ireland also has a substantial private healthcare sector, comprising private clinics and hospitals across the country. These private bodies cover a range of services and price-brackets, and make up almost a third of the acute hospitals in Ireland (in other words, hospitals where patients can receive short-term treatment for serious injuries or illness). You should note that even if you have a private healthcare plan you may receive your care in a public hospital, as there are some overlaps between the two systems.
If you are not a citizen of an E.U/EEA member state, or a British or Swiss national, your best bet for your first year in Ireland is to invest in some insurance. Ireland has four primary providers of health insurance: VHI Healthcare, Laya Healthcare, Irish Life Health, and Aviva Ireland. However, global health insurance packages may be more economical and could have better benefits in the long run. Trusted global health insurance providers include William Russell, Cigna, and Allianz.
Day-to-day Care and Checkups
In Ireland your first stop if you have a medical query or concern will likely be your local General Practitioner (GP). GP’s operate out of private surgeries and therefore generally have a fee attached if you visit them for an appointment, however children under the age of six and people over the age of 70 are entitled to free check-ups. The government also issues Medical cards to individuals whose income is below a certain bracket, or if they have a long-term disability or debilitating illness. Medical cards cover public in-patient and out-patient services, eye tests, and dental check-ups. GP-visit cards cover a second category of people and are also means tested, they entitle holders to free GP visits but unlike the Medical card they do not cover hospital or medicine bills. In order to apply for either card, you must be resident in Ireland for a minimum of one year. For those who are not covered by either system, a check-up at your GP will generally cost between €40 and €60. You can find your nearest GP by using the HSE website.
The two numbers to contact the Emergency Services in Ireland are 999 and 112. 112 can be called in any E.U. member country. The National Ambulance Service provides transport to hospitals for medical emergencies, but for non-urgent care they may supply you with a taxi or minibus in order to keep the ambulance’s themselves free for severe situations. You may be charged for the ambulance but this is largely dependent on where you are in the country, and charges can be waived in special circumstances. Medical card holders never need to pay for an ambulance.
Public hospitals in Ireland have Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments, which deal with urgent cases. If you are referred to A&E by a GP you do not have to pay a fee, otherwise it is a flat rate of €100 unless you hold the Medical card. If you are being treated for a prescribed infectious disease, such as COVID-19, the charge will not be applicable to you.
If you have any concerns about your mental health your first stop should be a GP, who will assess you and then, if necessary, refer you to a specialist. If you hold a Medical card you may receive free or reduced-fee services. You can also enter the mental health system privately by attending one of the many qualified counsellors and psychotherapists practicing in Ireland, more information can be found with the Irish Council for Psychotherapy. There are also a number of volunteer and non-profit organisations in Ireland dedicated to supporting you if you are struggling mentally, such as Pieta House, Samaritans, Aware, and Mental Health First Aid. St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin is the country’s largest independent mental health service, and operates on a not-for-profit basis, you will generally be referred there by a medical practitioner.
If you are suffering from a mental health crisis and feel that you may be in danger you should go directly to your nearest A&E.
So there you have it. With our introduction to the basics of the Irish health system we hope we’ve empowered you with the knowledge you need to research and make the best choices for your physical and mental well-being.