Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means rather than income. Any person, regardless of nationality, who is accepted by the health boards as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility, category 1 — medical card holders, or limited eligibility, category 2, for health services. Health boards normally regard a person as "ordinarily resident" in Ireland if he-she satisfies the health board that it is his-her intention to remain in Ireland for a minimum period of one year.
Persons in category 1 are medical card holders and they are entitled to a full range of services including general practitioner services, prescribed drugs and medicines, all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services, all out-patient public hospital services including consultants services, dental, ophthalmic and aural services and appliances and a maternity and infant care service.
Persons in category 2, non-medical card holders, are entitled, subject to certain charges, to all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services and out-patient public hospital services including consultants services. The current public hospital statutory in-patient charge is €45 per night, up to a maximum of €450 in any 12 consecutive months. Attendance at accident and emergency departments is subject to a charge of €45 where the patient does not have a referral note from his-her doctor. This charge applies only to the first visit in any episode of care. A maternity and infant care service is provided during pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth.
Under the Health Act 1970, the determination of eligibility for health services is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board and neither I nor my Department has a function in the matter. Health boards have discretion, in cases of exceptional need, to provide assistance to individuals where undue hardship would otherwise be caused. Alternatively, one can opt to be the private patient of both the consultant and the hospital. Any patient, whether a medical card holder or not, who opts for treatment in a private hospital or as a private patient in a public hospital is liable for the costs relating to such treatment.
I have asked the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.