Emergency health services in Ireland provide medical attention for illnesses or injuries requiring immediate treatment. Typical examples of injuries that may require emergency health services include those resulting from accidents, heart attacks or other sudden illnesses.
Emergency health services are usually delivered by a general practitioner (GP), ambulance personnel or by attendance at the Accident and Emergency department of an acute hospital.
The Department of Health has overall responsibility for policy on accident and emergency health services in Ireland. The Health Service Executive has responsibility for the delivery of public health emergency health services.
Ambulance emergency care
The Health Service Executive (HSE) provide ambulance services for transporting seriously ill people to public hospitals or between public hospitals in Ireland. Ambulance services as part of the emergency services are contactable by telephoning 999 or 112. (The 112 number applies throughout the EU). All calls are free. Read more about ambulance and transport services in Ireland here.
Section 185 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 (amending Section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Offences Act 1994 makes it a criminal offence to impede, assault or prevent a member of the emergency health service from carrying out their duties. The maximum penalty for assaulting or threatening to assault emergency health personnel is 7 years in prison or a fine of €5,000 or both. The penalty for impeding emergency heath personnel from providing medical services is a fine of €2,500.
Family doctor (GP) emergency care
If you wish to attend your family doctor (GP) as a result of an emergency, the following are the options for contacting them;
Attend at a surgery operated by your GP during specific hours. You can find out what these hours are by contacting your GP. Telephone your GP and ask for them to call to you during the time set aside for house calls. Outside normal hours if you telephone your GP the message on the answering machine will usually indicate the number to ring in emergencies. This number may be a locum service. A locum service is one in which another doctor (not your GP) calls to the home of patients outside normal hours.
Visit a GP out-of-hours co-operative (if there is one in your area) and if you are a patient of one of the GPs who form the co-operative.
GP out-of-hours co-operatives
In parts of Ireland, GPs have come together to form co-operatives providing a medical service outside normal working hours. These co-operatives receive financial assistance from the state. The co-operative may be based in a health centre, public hospital or in another location, often provided by the Health Service Executive. Participating GPs provide this service on a rota basis in the evenings, at weekends and on bank and public holidays.
Generally the service is available only to the patients of the GPs participating in the co-op. It is necessary to telephone a Lo-call number to access the service and the appropriate care may mean telephone advice by a nurse or doctor. Care may also include attendance at a treatment centre or a home visit to your home by the doctor on duty.
Medical card and GP Visit card holder don’t have to pay for the services provided by the GP out of hours co-operatives. All other patients have to pay the full cost of using this service.
Accident and Emergency departments of public hospitals
The other common form of emergency service is that provided in acute hospitals in their Accident and Emergency departments. In all, 35 public hospitals in Ireland provide accident and emergency services. Anybody in Ireland with a medical emergency is entitled to attend their Accident and Emergency departments. Unless you have been referred by your GP, or you hold a medical card there may be costs associated with these visits.
Attendance at a private clinic for emergency treatment is not free of charge and you must pay the full cost of any care. Those attending the Accident and Emergency Department of a public hospital are prioritised on the basis of medical need.
The patient visiting the Accident and Emergency will either be treated and sent home or will be admitted to a ward as an in-patient.
If someone is admitted to hospital following a visit to an Accident and Emergency department then normal charges for in-patient hospital services apply. If you hold a medical card you are not charged for these services. If you do not hold a medical card, you are charged a fee per night up to a maximum in any one year. For more on hospital charges see charges for hospital services.
Entitlement of visitors to Ireland to emergency health services
Nationals of EU/EEA member states and Switzerland, visiting Ireland are entitled to health services for conditions which become medically necessary during their stay, taking into account the nature of the health service and the expected length of the stay.
These services are provided free of charge through the public health system on production of a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Services provided by a private general practitioner (GP) or private hospital are not covered under this regulation and must be paid for by the recipient. The EHIC does not cover the cost of services where the persons travel to Ireland for the specific purpose of receiving health services.
If you are not an EU/EEA national and are on a temporary visit to Ireland, you will have to pay the cost of attendance at Accident and Emergency. If you are not a national of an EU/EEA member state, or from Switzerland or Australia, you will also have to pay the full economic cost of any further treatment, including medical care in an acute hospital. Therefore taking out private medical travel insurance before travelling is recommended.
Unless you have a medical card or a GP Visit card, you will have to pay the full cost of visiting your family doctor (GP). See further information on charges for hospital services.