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Healthcare for expats in Ireland

The Irish health care system is a two tier system in which residents can avail of public or private healthcare depending on their personal circumstances. Every working resident pays for public healthcare through their taxes, meaning that each and every resident is entitled to basic free public healthcare. This is assuring for those on limited incomes, however many choose to opt for private healthcare given the drawbacks of some public healthcare options.

Public Hospital healthcare

The public healthcare system is managed and operated by the Health Service Executive (HSE). A hiring embargo which effects staffing levels in public hospitals have resulted in many public patients experiencing long waiting times when seeking both urgent and long-term health and medical care.

Sometimes this means that even those waiting for major lifesaving surgery and treatment have to wait for years. There are constant efforts in government to cut down on waiting lists in the public healthcare space however the problem always seems to remain the same – there are limited resources in terms of finances and special staff expertise.

Waiting times in hospitals tend to be busiest in the winter months as the hospitals are busy with cases of influenza. Emergency transport to hospitals in Dublin can be problematic as most hospitals are based in the city where traffic can become congested.

If you are being seen by a consultant on a public basis it is important that you keep attending the consultant as advised and not miss any appointments without a reasonable explanation. In most cases missing an appointment or a series of appointments can result in the patient having to start afresh from the bottom of the waiting list.

Private Hospital Healthcare

There are an increasing number of private hospital healthcare providers servicing Ireland. Residents who wish to avail of private health care must pay for health insurance. Health insurance in Ireland is expensive but gives peace of mind that long waiting lists for consultations, aftercare and operational procedures are avoided.

In general at any one given time about 50% of Irish residents have private healthcare of some sort. This demonstrates the lack of confidence that people have in the public system. Families can purchase discounted private healthcare insurance at a reasonable price if they opt to pay for a family policy.

Many corporations offer their employees discounted private healthcare insurance through a group scheme. Unfortunately the price of private health insurance rises as one gets older, especially after the age of fifty five. Private health care often takes place in public hospitals as some consultants rent consultancy rooms in public hospitals.

For those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford private health insurance it is worth their while getting the most of what they have paid for. Several private hospital groups such as the Beacon Private and the Blackrock Clinic offer a yearly health screening service for those aged 40 and over with private health insurance. This is a comprehensive health screening involving a series of checks that are taken over the course of half a day.

General Practitioners

There is a plethora of private practice doctors in Ireland; even residents of small towns and villages have easy access to a local private general practitioner. These doctors look after both private and public patients. Private patients pay on a cost per consultation basis. A standard visit to a private general practitioner will cost about €50 - €60 which can prove costly for those with a family of small children.

Irish residents in certain income brackets may be entitled to free public care from their local general practitioner. To avail of free health care residents must be able to demonstrate that they fall in to a lower income bracket. Successful applicants for this free care are given a medical card which entitles them to free GP care.

There are plans in place to introduce free healthcare for all children less than 5 years of age regardless of the families income level. In general GP’s are limited in what they can successfully treat. They sometimes have neither the skills, equipment and expertise to solve more serious problems. Often the GP will send a patient that is displaying worrying symptoms to a specialist consultant for tests or further investigation.

Any illnesses or diseases that Irish GPs look after are usually solved by prescribing medication. Pharmacists in Ireland cannot dispense most medications without a written prescription from a registered Irish GP or doctor. The price of medications in Ireland is slowly falling. This is thanks to the introduction of generic labelled drugs and increased competition in the pharmaceutical space. In years gone by people with ailments which were expensive to treat would travel to Northern Ireland to achieve a discount on the price of medication, however thankfully this is no longer common practice as prices have stabilised.

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Pregnancy

Ireland has a very high standard of care for women who are pregnant and for young new born children. The government offer free scans and check-ups at regular intervals through the pregnancy cycle.

The infant mortality rate in Ireland is three deaths for every 1,000 children born. This is one of the lowest rates in the world. Maternity hospitals are basic but clean and efficient. Most maternity hospitals are located in Dublin meaning that even people who live outside of the capital will travel to Dublin to have their baby.

Medicine control and general hospital quality assurance in Ireland is managed by the HPRA (formerly the Irish medicines board). For quality and assurance reasons healthcare workers like physiotherapists and occupational therapists must be registered with the relevant governing body for their profession. All healthcare workers are Garda vetted in the interest of child protection.

Elderly

Elderly people who require home assistance can apply for a home assistance grant. The level of assistance will depend on the health of the applicant and also their financial standing at the time of application.

The government operates a “fair deal scheme” for older people who cannot live unassisted and require full time care in a nursing home. Under this arrangement the applicant agrees to forego 80% of their income. This may seem like a massive percentage of an individual’s income but it is important to bear in mind that anyone applying for the scheme will need permanent attention and care. All medical care and living expenses will be covered under the scheme. They must also agree to forego 7.5% of their tangible assets each year and a portion of their estate when they pass on. Nursing home costs can amount to over €1000 per week for people who decide against participating in the fair deal scheme.