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While Northern Ireland shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, it is officially part of the United Kingdom and this affects how healthcare in the country is administered. The quality of public healthcare in Northern Ireland generally is good with free medical treatments available to all legal residents.
Public healthcare is provided by Health and Social Care of Northern Ireland (HSC), a branch of the National Health Service (NHS). While the HSC is run separately from the NHS, many of its features are shared. Other medical services are also available to expats willing to pay the high fees associated with private healthcare.
To receive medical treatment in Northern Ireland, expats will need a medical card from the HSC. This will be issued when registering with a General Practitioner (GP) for the first time. Expats might need to present their passport and visa to a GP to show that they qualify. Nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will also need to pay a surcharge on top of their visa fees to access public healthcare.
A GP will most likely be an expat’s primary link with the HSC. These professionals are well-versed in general medical queries, and offer referrals to specialists when needed. Some GP’s may not take new patients or they might only treat those living in a specific catchment area. Luckily, there are more than 350 GP practices in Northern Ireland, so expats shouldn’t struggle to find a family doctor.
Public healthcare in Northern Ireland is funded by local Health Trusts which means that some treatments available in one area may not be available in the next. The HSC does not pay for dental or eye care. Expats might want to consider taking out private health insurance to cover themselves for services that fall outside their public healthcare entitlement.
Private medical facilities are of a high standard in Northern Ireland. Usually, these institutions offer specialised medical services, or services that are not covered by the Health Service. The services offered by private hospitals can be expensive, so private health insurance is a good idea. Policies can range from supplementary cover that includes dental and eye care, to comprehensive policies that cover most treatments at a private facility.
Expats should take note of where their closest emergency department is located, as not all private hospitals are equipped to deal with emergencies.
Pharmacies and medication
Pharmacists (or chemists) in Northern Ireland can provide basic medical advice, sell over-the-counter medication and fill prescriptions. Expats should keep in mind that seeing a pharmacist for minor ailments can be as useful as visiting a doctor.
Most hospitals and some doctor’s offices have pharmacies located onsite for convenience. Expats will also be able to find a number of 24-hour pharmacies in most major cities. It is advisable to note the generic name of any chronic medication being taken before arrival in Northern Ireland, as brand names tend to vary from country to country.
Ambulances in Northern Ireland are generally well-equipped and staffed with trained professionals. Dialling 999 connects callers to the general emergency line where their situation will be assessed. Visitors will get free emergency treatment, but any follow-up treatment will be billed.
For broken bones, minor concussions, sprains and other non-emergency medical issues, consider visiting the Minor Injury Unit, where waiting times can be shorter.
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