Nobody wants to envisage a situation where they require healthcare for an illness or injury. However, should this situation become a reality then you need to know where you stand. This is particularly true if you are new or recently returned to a country, and Northern Ireland is no different in this respect. To ensure that you know exactly what you entitlements and responsibilities are when it comes to healthcare in Northern Ireland, you need to read our healthcare in Northern Ireland guide closely.
Background and overview
Unlike the Republic of Ireland, healthcare in Northern Ireland is provided through the Health and Social Care Northern Ireland (HSC). The HSC is closely aligned to the National Health Service (NHS) that operates in the remainder of the UK (England, Scotland and Wales) but differs from the NHS in that it provides not only health care but social care too. While a private healthcare sector exists, the public health service is used by the vast majority of people.
The publicly financed HSC offers a comprehensive range of healthcare services for residents in Northern Ireland, including GP and accident and emergency (A&E) services. For instance, with services such as A&E, patients simply walk in, state their name and date of birth, are given treatment and then leave. Patients are unaware of costs incurred by them using the service. Northern Ireland has also abolished the prescription charge for medicines, making it easier for residents to access the medication they may require.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public safety has over all authority for HSC services. Services are commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board and provided by five health and Social Care Trusts – Belfast, the largest of the five, South Eastern, Southern, Northern and Western. Ambulance Services in Northern Ireland are provided by the NI Ambulance Trust
Non-emergency services are also covered by the HSC in Northern Ireland. These routine treatments are provided free of cost to people who live in Northern Ireland. The technical term for living in Northern Ireland is being ‘ordinarily resident’ and this also includes migrant workers and refugees. Finally, as a resident of Northern Ireland, you may get free maternity services from your GP, a midwife in a hospital or local health clinic and an obstetrician in a hospital if necessary. Maternity services are also available to frontier workers resident in Ireland and employed in Northern Ireland.
Another point of differentiation between Ireland north and south is that, unlike in the Republic of Ireland where almost 45 percent of people have private health insurance, the percentage of Northern Irish citizens signed up to VHI, one of the region’s primary health insurance providers, is closer to 10 percent.
Healthcare Registration in Northern Ireland
Once you arrive in Northern Ireland as a newcomer, you must register with a General Practitioner (GP) at your local health centre to use the health service (except for emergency services). After you register with a GP, you will need to fill out a HS2XX form. It is important to remember that frontier workers resident in Ireland and employed in Northern Ireland are entitled to a medical card and to avail of the National Health Service (NHS).
What does healthcare in Northern Ireland entitle you to?
If you fall into one of the following three categories, then you are entitled to free GP care in Northern Ireland:
- If you are living in Northern Ireland
- If you are living in Ireland and working in Northern Ireland
- If you are living in Ireland and become ill on a temporary visit to Northern Ireland
Moreover, it is important to remember that rish citizens do not need any specific documents but other EU/EEA nationals who are looking for work should have Form E301 with them. Other EU/EEA nationals who are visiting the North should have their European Health Insurance Card (Form E101).
Frontier/Cross-border workers: What you need to know
A frontier or cross-border worker is a person who lives in one member state and works in another, returning home daily or weekly. For example, if you live in Northern Ireland but work in the Republic, or vice-versa, then you’ll be classified as a frontier worker.
Northern residents working in the South:
- Are entitled to health care in NI, as they are legally resident in NI
- Are entitled to apply for an Irish Medical Card, subject to a means test
Southern residents working in the North:
- Are entitled to a NI medical card, however, their spouse and children are not eligible
- Are eligible for free GP services
- Are eligible to register with a dentist
- Are eligible for maternity services from a GP, a midwife and an obstetrician in a hospital if necessary
- Are also eligible for an Irish Medical Card under EU Entitlement (without a means test)