Health system in Ireland: all the information you need

By Carlotta Cutrale / January 30, 2020
health system in Ireland

Moving from one country to another can be challenging. Sometimes this will mean facing some differences in terms of governmental bodies and social services providers, like, for example, the national health system. Here is all the general information you need to know about the health system in Ireland.

How does the Health system work?

The Irish healthcare system is divided into public and private services. 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. 

  • HSE is divided into six regional administrative areas:
    1. Area A – North Dublin, Meath, Louth, Cavan and Monaghan.
    2. Area B – Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois, Kildare and parts of Dublin and Wicklow.
    3. Area C – Tipperary South, Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford, Wicklow and part of South Dublin.
    4. Area D – Kerry and Cork.
    5. Area E– Limerick and Tipperary and Clare.
    6. Area F– Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway.
  • Each region provides services to a population of more than one million people.
  • All services are delivered through a combination of public, voluntary and private providers. Within each region, there are a number of hospital networks providing acute care and local health offices that accommodate a broad range of primary, community and continuing care 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.

What kind of services does the HSE provide?

Your Local Health Office is the entry point to community health and personal social services. The wide range of services that are provided through Local Health Offices and from health centres include general practitioner services, public health nursing, child health services, community welfare, chiropody, ophthalmic, speech therapy, social work, addiction counselling and treatment, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychiatric services and home help.

Any local Office can provide the following health service:

GPs and Hospitals: How do they work?

General Practitioners (GPs) are family doctors and often the first doctor people see about a health problem. 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 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. For further info about the GP services click here.

Regarding the Hospitals services, There are three different types of hospital provision in Ireland:

  1. Health Service Executive (HSE) hospitals, owned and funded by the HSE.
  2. Voluntary public hospitals, most of whose income comes from State funds. Private bodies, for example, religious orders, sometimes own voluntary public hospitals. Other voluntary public hospitals are incorporated by charter or statute and are run by boards often appointed by the Minister for Health.
  3. Private hospitals, which receive no State funding

In all of these three types, you can either be identified as: 

  • Out-patient: generally those who can use health assistance for accident and emergency services as well as planned services provided on an out-patient basis. For example, for diagnostic assessments such as x-rays or laboratory tests or for treatment such as physiotherapy, or consulting a specialist by reference from your GP.
  • In-patient: benefit from institutional services provided for people in hospitals, convalescent homes or homes for people with physical or mental disabilities. Day-case treatment is an in-patient service but you do not stay in hospital overnight.

Who can have access to the Health System and Services?

If you are ‘ordinarily resident’, you can access a range of public health services that are free of charge or subsidised by the Irish government. Generally, if you are living here for at least one year or you intend to live in Ireland for at least one year, you will be considered ‘ordinarily resident’. It’s helpful to have a Medical Card in order to use Irish Health Services. This is a card which entitles holders to free hospital care, GP visits, dental services, optical services, aural services, prescription drugs and medical appliances.

It is available to those, depending on residential status and financial means, who receive welfare payments, low earners, many retirees, and in certain other cases. 

However, there are two types of patients in the public healthcare system:

  • Category 1 – People with Medical Cards (full entitlement to access public health services). 

Over 30% of people in Ireland have medical cards. Medical Cards allow people to get a wide range of health services and medicines free of charge. You can read more about Medical Cards and how to apply for one here.

  • Category 2 – People without Medical Cards (limited access to public health services)

People without medical cards can still access a wide range of community and hospital health services, either free of charge or at a reduced cost. 

If you come from any EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland, you will eligible for receiving healthcare in Ireland under EU rules. However, if you are just visiting Ireland temporarily you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card which covers medical care if you become ill or have an accident. You should bring your European Health Insurance Card with you when you are travelling to Ireland. If you are from the UK you can bring evidence of UK residence instead. 

On the other hand, if you don’t belong to this category, and you are a visitor from a non-EU/EAA Member State, you are regarded as ordinarily resident in Ireland if you can show the HSE that you intend to live here for at least a year.

The HSE may look for evidence that you are legally entitled to live here for at least a year. However, if you’re planning to stay for a shorter amount of time in Ireland or you cannot prove that you are ordinarily resident, you do not have any entitlement to free or subsidised health services and will be required to cover the costs of any medical treatment while in the country. 

Finally, to guard against any unforseen expenses, you may wish to consider taking out travel insurance.

About the author

Carlotta Cutrale

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