Normal opening hours are 9am to 6pm Mondays to Saturdays (often later on Thursdays or Fridays) and sometimes on Sunday mornings or afternoons. Many pharmacies are open until 9 or 10pm on weekdays and some open all day on Sundays and holidays. There are no 24-hour pharmacies in Ireland; if you’re in urgent need of drugs or medicines during the night, you must go to your nearest accident and emergency (hospital) department.
Unless you’re a Medical Card holder, in which case you’re entitled to free drugs on prescription, you must pay for prescribed drugs ‘at cost’ up to a maximum. Under the Drugs Payment Scheme, which came into effect in July 1999, if you or your family has a number of prescriptions to obtain, you can collect them all at once and gain the benefit of buying ‘in bulk’. If you want to use this scheme, you need to register at a pharmacy or with your local Health Board.
Drugs purchased on a one-off basis can be expensive. The cost of non-prescription items can vary considerably and non-drug items such as toiletries are considerably cheaper at supermarkets.
There are various schemes designed to offset the cost of drugs and medicines for those with serious or long-term illnesses. Under the ‘drug refund scheme’, you may claim a refund. The ‘drugs cost subsidisation scheme’ assists those without a Medical Card who are certified as having a long-term (i.e. more than 12 months) medical condition requiring drugs.
If you suffer from certain long-term conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease, you can obtain a long-term illness book that entitles you to free medication. Medical expenses can also be claimed against tax (you’ll need to keep your receipts).
Most pharmacists provide general advice regarding the best medicines for particular conditions and many are trained to provide individual consultations and advice to customers. In some pharmacies there may even be an area where you can have a more or less private consultation with a pharmacist. In the case of minor ailments, this service (which is always free!) can save you a great deal of money compared with visits to a doctor, as a pharmacist will also tell you which drugs can be purchased over the counter without the need for a prescription.