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Healthcare systems differ from one country to the next, and you can’t expect to get all that the NHS offers for free when you visit another country. If you are travelling overseas, it is important that you understand the healthcare system in your destination country in order to make the necessary preparations. Failure to do so could result in you being unable to access medical treatment when you need it, or incurring a hefty bill that you end up having to pay directly. Here’s all you need to know about receiving healthcare if you are travelling to Ireland, whether it’s just for a weekend break or to live and work in The Emerald Isle.
Getting emergency assistance
As much as we wish they didn’t, emergencies happen. We can go to great lengths to be safe at all times, but things beyond our control can happen when we least expect them to. If you find yourself in a situation where your life is in danger you should call 999 or 112. These numbers will put you through to emergency services for an ambulance, the fire brigade, the police or the coastguard.
In Ireland, both these numbers will put you through to the emergency services switchboard, and your call will be handled in precisely the same manner. Calling the emergency numbers in Ireland will not incur any call charges, regardless of whether you are calling from a fixed phone or a mobile.
Emergency medical care is provided to anyone who requires urgent attention in Ireland.
Healthcare up until Brexit
The authorities of Ireland and the United Kingdom have an agreement in place that means UK residents are not required to present a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if they wish to access health services during a temporary stay in Ireland. You will only be required to present proof that you are a UK resident, whether through your passport, driving licence or any other documentation that displays your NHS Number or equivalent details.
Accessing public healthcare in Ireland may not be free of charge. Before you visit, you should purchase the necessary travel insurance to ensure you have access to sufficient funding to cover any medical treatment you may require whilst abroad. Don’t forget to retain all paperwork and receipts that come with your medical treatment, as these may be required by you and/or your insurance company to obtain any refunds available. It’s a good idea to make copies of paperwork for your own records.
At the time of writing, you are able to access Irish state-provided healthcare for a reduced cost if you are there on a temporary stay. You may even be able to access healthcare free of charge. However, there are certain costs which you won’t automatically be covered for. These include:
- Private medical treatment
- Treatment while on a cruise
- Mountain rescue
- Transport back to the UK
It is therefore important that you do what you can to make sure any treatment you receive in Ireland comes from a public healthcare provider. Be careful when asking a hotel or travel representative to make arrangements for you, as they may not automatically contact a public provider if you don’t specify that is what you want. State health provision across Ireland is delivered in hospitals and community health facilities across the country.
If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without agreeing on a deal, the Common Travel Area will still apply. This means that British citizens will not need a visa to travel to Ireland. Furthermore, the governments of the UK and Ireland are in talks to agree on the continuation of existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements.
However, if you are planning to visit Ireland after Brexit has been completed, it is recommended that you take out travel insurance. A policy that includes healthcare cover will ensure you get the medical treatment you might need whilst you are in Ireland. The advice for UK citizens is to take out travel insurance whenever they go overseas, whether they are visiting an EU or a non-EU destination.
As Brexit negotiations develop, there are likely to be changes to these circumstances, so keep following the progress of the situation.
The provisional replacement certificate (PRC)
A PRC is a document that indicates a person’s entitlement to EHIC. You use a PRC when you require healthcare of any kind but don’t have your EHIC or any of the necessary identification documents with you in Ireland. You just need to call Overseas Healthcare Services and request that they send over a PRC that you can show to healthcare professionals at a facility in Ireland. This will avoid you having to pay medical charges directly.
To contact Overseas Healthcare Services, use the following numbers:
From within the UK: 0191 218 1999
From outside the UK: +44 191 218 1999
These lines are open between 08:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday.
Patients with pre-existing conditions
If you are able to provide proof of your status as a UK resident, or you have proof of travel insurance cover, your pre-existing condition(s) should be covered.
When you take out health insurance (or travel insurance) it is imperative that you declare any pre-existing health conditions, no matter how ‘minor’ they may seem. Failure to do so could lead to your policy being void in the event that you need to make a claim.
If the purpose of your visit is to obtain specific medical treatment, you should do research to learn all the necessary requirements that will impact on your visit.
You are required to pay for your prescriptions in Ireland.
Bringing medicines into Ireland
In most cases, bringing your own medication into Ireland shouldn’t cause you any difficulties. However, some prescription medications have certain drugs in them which are controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs act in the United Kingdom. When these drugs are present, there are extra legal controls that apply to the medication in question.
If you take a controlled medication, you may need to obtain a personal licence to be able to take carry that medication with you when you travel. There will also be specific requirements in relation to the way you carry the controlled medicine and the information that you must keep with you to prove that you are permitted to be carrying that medication.
For more information about taking controlled medicines abroad, visit the relevant section of the GOV.UK website.
Treatment in hospitals
In the Irish healthcare system, there are both public and private hospitals.
If you require emergency hospital treatment, you can head directly to the Accident and Emergency department at any public hospital. There will be no charge for anyone eligible under EU regulations.
Treatment from dentists
If you need to see a dentist while you are in Ireland, you should get in touch with the Local Health Office or a nearby health centre to get the details of any contracted clinics or dentists.
Emergency dental care is available from any dental practice contracted to the Local Health Office. So if you have a dental emergency, check that a dentist is contracted to the Local Health Office for the provision of services through the Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme System before committing to a decision.
Be sure to inform them that you are seeking treatment under EU regulations.
If you are working in Ireland
If you relocate to Ireland for work, you may be eligible to be assigned a Medical Card. This will be subject to you meeting Ireland’s habitual residence criteria, which are also means-tested.
If you fall into category 1, you will qualify to receive free healthcare. If you fall into category 2, you will have to pay fees for access to specific medical services.
Access to free healthcare is subject to means tests in Ireland. If you qualify for free healthcare, you’ll be issued a Medical Card which provides free access to the following services:
- General practitioners
- Prescriptions, with a small nominal charge for each prescribed item
- Services in state hospitals
- Maternity/infant care services
- Dentists, opticians and aural services
- Community care and personal social services, including home help, public health nursing, physiotherapy, respite care and chiropody
If you don’t qualify for a Medical Card, you will have to pay for healthcare services. Inpatient fees are €80 per day up to €800 max in any 12-month period. If you arrive at an Accident and Emergency department without a GP referral, you will be liable for a standard fee of €100.
Workers posted to Ireland by a UK company may be entitled to healthcare cover funded by the UK. Get in touch with HM Revenue and Customs to find out more about this. Call them on:
UK: 0300 200 3500
Outside UK: +44 191 203 7010
You can call these numbers between 08:30 and 17:00, Monday to Friday.
If you relocate to Ireland for work after Brexit, you may still apply for a Medical Card, which will be subject to habitual residence and means testing. If you are a British citizen, you will not need a visa to travel to Ireland.
If you’re a UK worker posted to Ireland, the two nations are working to agree a continuation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements. You may want to take out additional private health insurance.
Up until the UK departs from the EU, if you’re a UK student posted to Ireland or studying at an Irish university, you may be eligible for health cover funded by the UK. After Brexit is complete, the UK and Ireland are still in the process of working hard to agree on a continuation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements.
You may want to take out private healthcare insurance in addition to this. The UK government always advises that UK citizens take out travel insurance when they go abroad. This is the case whether you are travelling to an EU or a non-EU destination.
If you live in Ireland and are in receipt of a UK exportable benefit like the State Pension, you may qualify for state healthcare financed by the UK. Additionally, you will usually be asked to present some evidence of your entitlement to Irish healthcare, which can come in the form of proof of property ownership/rental.
If you are eligible, you will need to obtain a medical card that entitles you to certain free healthcare services.
If you have any queries about your entitlement to health services, or how to access HSE health/social services locally, contact the HSE information line. The number is 1850 24 1850 from within Ireland, or +353 41 684 0300 from outside Ireland.
If you relocate to Ireland, you could qualify for a Medical Card. To be eligible for one, you must satisfy the Health Service Executive that you are living in Ireland, with the intention to remain there for at least a year, and your UK social insurance or pension is eligible. There is more information on the Irish Health Service Executive website.
If you are eligible, a Medical Card will entitle you to the receipt of certain health services for free. Additionally, you will usually be required to present some evidence of entitlement to receive medical care in Ireland, such as proof of property ownership or rental.
Whatever your reason for travelling to Ireland, it is imperative that you make yourself aware of the healthcare system there and take the necessary steps to ensure you will be able to access treatment if you need it. Accidents and medical emergencies happen, and you need to ensure you and your loved ones can get the treatment they need. Ireland and the UK have enjoyed a close relationship for many years, and it is relatively easy to access the full range of health services if you are a UK resident visiting Ireland. Nevertheless, everyone’s situation is different, so don’t neglect to check that you will be able to get medical help if you need it while you’re in The Emerald Isle.