Once you’ve received a Medical Card or notification of entitlement to Category 2 benefits, you’ll be free to register with any doctor who can accommodate you. GPs are listed under ‘Doctors – General Practitioners’ in the Golden Pages or a list can be obtained from your local Health Board (Medical Card holders are sent a list of ‘approved’ doctors from which to choose). The best way to choose a doctor is to ask your colleagues, friends or neighbours if they can recommend someone.
Appointments & House Calls
Surgery hours vary, but are typically from 8.30am to 6pm, Mondays to Fridays. Emergency surgeries may be held on Saturday mornings, e.g. from 8.30 to 11.30am or noon. Note that most doctors operate an appointment system, where you must make an appointment in advance.
You cannot just turn up during surgery hours and expect to be seen. If you’re an urgent case (but not an emergency), your doctor will usually see you immediately, but you should still phone in advance. Most doctors’ surgeries have answering machines outside surgery hours, when a recorded message informs you of the name of the doctor on call (or deputising service) and his telephone number.
Some group practices operate their own 24-hour emergency service. There are also 24-hour deputising services in most areas, which will arrange a house call at any time of the day or night (e.g. ‘Doctor on Duty’ in Dublin, Tel. 01-453 9333). Most Irish doctors are happy to make house calls (for which they’ll charge).
Of the 2,400 or so GPs practising in Ireland, over 40 per cent are in single practice and around 30 per cent in practice with one other doctor. Only 30 per cent work in group practices of three or more doctors. Even fewer operate within a health centre, where other services, such as maternity care, cervical smears and breast screening, vaccinations, physiotherapy and chiropody, are available.
Bear in mind that, if your doctor is part of a partnership or group practice, when he’s absent you’ll automatically be treated by a partner or another doctor (unless you wish to wait until your doctor returns), whereas in an individual practice, you may be required to see a locum (replacement doctor) when your doctor is absent.
There are a small number of walk-in ‘medicentres’, where you don’t need to be registered or to make an appointment, but in general the Irish prefer to visit their regular family doctor, even if it means waiting a few days.
Choosing a Doctor
It’s a good idea to enquire in advance (e.g. by asking the receptionist) whether a doctor has the ‘qualifications’ you require.It’s normal practice in Ireland to meet a prospective doctor before deciding whether to register with him.
Registration takes the form of a private contract between you and the doctor and you may change doctors at any time or regularly see more than one doctor. The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) plans to introduce a standard registration procedure for all patients, but it’s not yet known when (or whether) this will be implemented.
You may switch to another doctor in the same area, depending on the availability of places, but be careful what reason you give for wanting to change doctors, as doctors tend to be wary of accepting a patient who has had a ‘disagreement’ with a colleague. One ‘legitimate’ reason for changing doctors is that you wish to be treated by a doctor of the opposite sex to your present one (it’s hard luck if all doctors in your area are the same sex).
If you want a second opinion on any health matter, you may ask to see another doctor or a specialist and most GPs are happy for you to do so. Note, however, that in many cases, a second doctor doesn’t confirm the first doctor’s diagnosis.
If you have a complaint against your GP, you should address it to the Medical Council, Lynn House, Portobello Court, Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin 6 (Tel. 01-496 5588). Further information on Irish doctors is available from the ICGP (Tel. 01-676 3705).