Health and medical emergencies services for visitors to Northern Ireland

Visitors to Northern Ireland can receive treatment for accidents and emergencies free of charge. This page contains information on getting medical treatment at hospital emergency departments. It also features information on how to contact a doctor (general practitioner or GP), pharmacist and dentist.

Medical emergencies

All visitors to Northern Ireland are entitled to medical emergency services free of charge.

A medical emergency is something that is, potentially, immediately life-threatening. It does not include routine monitoring or treatment which should be seen by a GP, pharmacist or dentist or, if appropriate, could wait until a person returns to their home country.

Examples of medical emergencies include:

  • a sudden collapse and becoming unresponsive or not breathing
  • suspected stroke or heart attack
  • becoming unconscious, perhaps after heavy blood loss or accident
  • collapse preceded by facial swelling and wheezing or choking episode
  • accident leading to injury

If you have a medical emergency and need an ambulance, call 999 immediately. You can also go to a hospital emergency department. You don’t need an appointment.

Emergency departments provide the highest level of emergency care for patients, especially those with sudden and acute illness or severe trauma.

Hospital emergency departments

Emergency departments are open 24 hours, 7 days a week unless indicated.

Paying for treatment and exemptions

All visitors to Northern Ireland are entitled to medical emergency services free of charge. If the treatment provided to a person is not for a medical emergency, they will be charged for that treatment unless they are exempt from charges.

For example, a person could be charged for any further treatment following an accident or emergency.

See the table below for information on exemptions for treatment.

Country or area of residence Treatment Requirements
Great Britain Entitled to full health care Must provide details of their GP
European Union Entitled to free immediate and necessary treatment including medicines Must provide a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Countries with a reciprocal agreement with the UK (for example, Canada and Australia) Entitled to free immediate and necessary treatment including medicines See 'NHS List of reciprocal country agreements' link below

People from other countries may have to pay for treatment, including appointments, consultations and medication. A GP can decline to provide this service.

If a condition is considered non-urgent and a GP or GP out-of-hours service is consulted, there may be a charge.

This link to a slide show tool will help you find out if you are entitled to access Health and Social Care services.

You should also consult relevant travel insurance or private medical care information to check your entitlement to medical treatment.

Pharmacists

All community pharmacies/chemists have a qualified pharmacist working in the pharmacy who is registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

Pharmacists can give free expert advice on medicines and many common health conditions. For example, they are trained to advise whether your symptoms can be treated without the need to see a GP, or whether you should seek further advice from a GP.

Pharmacists can also give you information about other local health services.

You do not need an appointment to speak to a pharmacist.

You can buy over-the-counter medicines (which don’t need a prescription from your doctor), and can have medicines dispensed that are prescribed by a GP.  Community pharmacy opening hours vary, but Monday to Friday they are usually open from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm. Some may be open for a longer period. 

Some pharmacies are closed on Saturdays and most are closed on Sundays.

Those pharmacies that are most likely to be open during the evening and Sunday afternoons from 1.00 pm to 5.30 pm are located in shopping centres and city centres.

Services provided by a GP

Family doctors are known as GPs and work in GP practices located throughout Northern Ireland. 

GPs provide a wide range of health services including:

  • advice on health problems
  • physical examinations
  • diagnosis and treatment
  • care for more longstanding medical conditions
  • prescribing of medication
  • referrals to other health services

If you have a medically urgent condition you should be able to speak to a health care professional the same day, although usually appointments are booked in advance.

GP opening hours

GP practices are open on weekdays Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays, and opening times differ between practices. Always contact the GP practice first by telephone.

GP out of hours services

GP out of hours is for urgent medical care when GP practices are closed.

If you require this service, you can telephone the nearest GP out-of-hours provider. However, if your condition is potentially immediately life-threatening, such as a heart attack or stroke, telephone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

GP out-of-hours services operate from 6.00 pm each evening Monday to Friday and 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. You must make contact first by telephone.

Private GP services are also available through several local providers

Mental health services

If you, or someone you know, is in distress or despair, call Lifeline, the Northern Ireland crisis response helpline or visit the Lifeline website. You will receive immediate help on the phone. Should you need further support Lifeline can provide face-to-face counselling appointments.

Dental services

Emergency dental treatment may be accessed from local dental practices during normal working hours from Monday to Friday. A payment may be required.

Outside of normal working hours, Relief of Dental Pain Clinics can be accessed for the treatment of dental emergencies only. A dental emergency is:

  • trauma
  • swelling
  • uncontrolled bleeding
  • severe pain

The Relief of Dental Pain Clinics do not have facilities for permanent restoration of lost crowns or bridges, or denture repairs.

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