How the Irish healthcare system works

The Health Services Executive (HSE) runs the healthcare system in Ireland. It is a system that provides a series of health and social services across the country. For further information on any of the health services available in Ireland, you can contact your local health office. You may eligible to get tax relief on your health expenses by filling out a claim form called a MED 1 form at the end of the tax year.


There are two type of hospitals in Ireland: public and private.

Public hospitals are run by the State and work on a system where there are dedicated Centres of Excellence across the country, usually located in the bigger cities. Private hospitals include Bons SecoursMater Private Hospital, Blackrock Clinic and Beacon Medical Group. Generally, your local doctor refers you to the hospitals unless you are admitted through Accident and Emergency.

Registering with a GP

General Practitioners (GPs) are family doctors. They are usually the first port of call when you get sick. You can expect to pay anything between €50 and €70 for each appointment. You’ll be able to register with your local doctor when you arrive in Ireland, before you actually need to make an appointment. This will speed up the process and avoid filling out forms if you do get sick. The Irish College of General Practitioners provides a list of GPs by area so it is easy to find one near you.

If you need a GP out of hours or a home visit, you can call SouthDoc which covers the Cork/Kerry region or Mediserve if you are based in the Dublin area.

Prescription medication

After you have been to your GP, you might have a prescription for medication. You will be able to get this filled at your local pharmacy. If you want to avoid paying full price for medication, it’s a good idea to apply for a Drugs Payment Scheme Card or a Medical Card as the expense can add up quickly. If you or your spouse is working, you will more than likely be eligible for a Drugs Payment Scheme Card and not a Medical Card. You will need your PPS Number before you apply for a Drugs Payment Scheme Card or a Medical Card. You can find out which card you will be eligible for at your local health office.

Drugs Payment Scheme

The Drugs Payment Scheme is a way in which the State subsidizes the cost of certain prescription medication once you’ve reached a certain price limit. This makes it more affordable for people who might otherwise be paying a huge amount on medication. Being part of the Drugs Payment Scheme means if you do need medicine at some stage, you will only have to pay the first €144 on medication each month. This works on a household basis. After that, all medication that is covered by the scheme will be free. You are entitled to apply for the card if you have been resident in Ireland for one year or you intend to be living in Ireland for one year. You can download the application form, print it out and send the completed form directly to your local health office. It can take up to four weeks to process.

Medical Card

A Medical Card is issued by the HSE and allows the cardholder to avail of some health services free of charge. In order to be entitled to the card, your income will need to be assessed and only those earning a low income will get a card. When you have a Medical Card, you will only be charged a small fee for prescription medication. If you don’t qualify for a Medical Card because you are earning more than the cut off point, you might be entitled to a GP Visit Card.

European Health Insurance Card

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a card, which gives you access to healthcare in EU countries during temporary stays. If you are a EU/EEA/Swiss resident, you are entitled to apply for an EHIC and this will cover you in 28 EU countries for medically necessary treatments. You must apply for a card before you make the move to Ireland and travel with it. This does not take the place of health insurance, a comprehensive list of what the card will cover in Ireland is available on the HSE website. There is no charge for the card.

Treatment Benefit Scheme

The Treatment Benefit Scheme provides a range of dental, hearing and optical services to insured workers and retired people who have paid a certain number of PRSI contributions. You can find out how many contributions you need to pay before being eligible from the Department of Social Protection.  


The Irish Dental Association has a database where you can search for a dentist in your area. While you need to pay for the routine cleaning and fillings, you may be able to get a portion of this back through your health insurance plan. You can apply for tax relief for non-routine dental treatment such as crowns, root canals, orthodontic treatment and bridgework by filling out a MED 2 form.

Emergency numbers

In case of an emergency you should call 112 or 999. These numbers should only be called when there is a risk to life or property, where there is a crime being committed or the prospect of a crime being committed and when a person feels their personal safety is being threatened.