There are around 1,650 general practitioners (GPs) and the number of people per doctor (approximately 680 on average) is about the same as in the UK, although higher than in most of the rest of Europe. The number of public hospitals is limited, although Irish medical staff are highly trained and provided with the latest equipment.
Ireland and the UK are the only EU countries where you can obtain public health care without having to make social security contributions. In Ireland your entitlement to benefits is determined solely by your residence status.
The Health (Amendment) Act 1991 introduced the concept of ‘ordinary residence’, which is the minimum requirement for eligibility. In order to be ‘ordinarily resident’ in Ireland, non-EU nationals must be able to show that they intend to remain in Ireland for a minimum of one year. This means producing:
- an Alien’s Registration Book or residence/work permit
- proof of property purchase or rental (including evidence that it’s your principal residence)
- confirmation of registration with a school or college
- or details of an Irish bank account.
Note that if you establish ordinary residence, your dependants won’t necessarily be eligible for public health care unless they are also ordinarily resident. EEA citizens who are resident in Ireland but insured in another EEA country are automatically eligible for health care as are their dependants, although if you’re self-employed you’ll receive few benefits. If you’re ordinarily resident in Ireland and receiving a social security pension from another EEA country, you’re entitled to public health care.
Unemployed people seeking work need form E119 and students form E109 to qualify for public health care. Temporary EEA visitors can obtain free emergency treatment on production of form E111.
Irish nationals returning to Ireland who aren’t covered by EEA regulations are regarded as ordinarily resident if they’re employed or self-employed in Ireland, or provide evidence that they intend to remain in Ireland for a minimum of one year. If they have been abroad for less than three years, they may be entitled to benefits in any case.
Anyone who doesn’t meet any of the above criteria will usually have to pay the ‘commercial rate’ for medical treatment and other benefits, although the Health Board may authorise urgent treatment at a reduced rate or even free in certain cases.