Most major towns have a general hospital, which provides treatment and diagnosis for in-patients, day-patients and out-patients, and offers the full range of hospital services including an accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Areas without a major town are covered by a regional hospital, which offers services such as a maternity unit but may not have an A&E department. In some rural areas there are district hospitals, where a more limited range of services is provided.
In addition to general hospitals, there are hospitals in Ireland that specialise in particular kinds of patients or types of treatment, most of them in the Dublin area. These include mental, remedial, psychiatric and orthopaedic hospitals, as well as hospitals for children, women (including the National Maternity Hospital). There’s also an Eye & Ear Hospital and a Skin & Cancer Hospital. Specialist hospitals accept patients only on a doctor’s referral.
A few hospitals are ‘day hospitals’, where services such as physiotherapy are available for a lower fee than at in-patient departments. A number of public hospitals have specialised geriatric departments, although these aren’t intended for long-term care. For long-term geriatric care you’ll need to be admitted to either a geriatric hospital or a welfare home.
In addition there are a number of clinics that specialise in family planning, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. You may visit a clinic without a referral. For routine treatment (e.g. innoculations) you can visit a health centre (listed under ‘Health Boards’ in the Golden Pages), where nursing services are provided free of charge, or at a subsidised rate.
Private and high-tech hospitals
Irish hospitals can be generally grouped into 3 categories. Apart from public hospitals, which offer treatment for all Irish residents and EU-citizens, there are also private and high-tech hospitals. This categorization is important when you consider buying private health insurance, as the latter two are only covered by private insurance schemes. The group of private hospitals includes all private operated clinics except the Mater Private Hospital, the Blackrock Clinic and the Beacon Hospital. These three hospitals are referred to as high-tech hospitals and are only covered by the most expensive schemes of private insurance.
Note that there are also voluntary hospitals. Most of them are funded by the government and are therefore public. Yet some voluntary hospitals are privately operated and thus only covered by private insurance.
Non-Medical Card holders must pay a daily fee for public hospital in-patient accommodation and a fee for a visit to an accident and emergency department (unless referred by a doctor). There’s no charge for expectant mothers or people being treated for infectious diseases. Note that, even if you’re entitled to free hospitalisation, you have the option to pay for private or semi-private accommodation. All charges include meals.
Private hospital charges are high. If you don’t have health insurance or are a visitor to Ireland, you’ll probably be asked to pay a deposit in advance, which may be the full cost of the treatment and accommodation (particularly if there’s any doubt that you will survive the ordeal). Most private hospitals accept credit and charge cards. It’s worth while obtaining a number of quotes from different hospitals, as well as checking whether you can get the same treatment cheaper abroad, e.g. in Britain.
Choice of Hospital
Except for emergencies, you may be admitted or referred to a public hospital or clinic for treatment only after consultation with a GP or a consultant (or from a clinic such as a family planning or well woman clinic).
Patients with private health insurance may be treated at the hospital of their choice, depending on their level of insurance cover. Non-private patients can ask to be treated at a particular hospital or to be referred to a particular consultant, but have no right to have their request met. In an emergency you’ll be treated at the nearest hospital. Children are usually admitted to a special children’s general ward or a children’s hospital well stocked with games, toys, books and other children.
Public hospital accommodation is in wards of around six beds, some of which are mixed. Most public hospitals also have private and semi-private (i.e. four beds in a room) accommodation . However, there’s some consolation to being in a general ward – just think how lonely and bored those poor private patients must be, ensconced in their luxury rooms with nobody to talk to all day!
Visiting hours vary from one hospital to another, but are typically two hours during the afternoon (e.g. 2 to 4pm) and two hours in the evening (e.g. 6.30–8.30pm), unless the patient is receiving special treatment (e.g. in intensive care). The same hours normally apply to patients in public wards and private rooms, but there’s usually a certain amount of ‘leeway’. In a private hospital or clinic there may be no restrictions on visiting hours.