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Using a referral to get healthcare in Northern Ireland


This content is currently being reviewed.

You must have a referral for healthcare from a GP or public consultant to access most types of healthcare under the Northern Ireland Planned Healthcare Scheme (NIPHS).

Your GP or public consultant can discuss your options with you. They can refer you directly to a consultant at a private hospital in Northern Ireland.

But you can also use a referral to a public hospital in Ireland to access private healthcare in Northern Ireland. You just need to arrange an outpatient appointment with your chosen hospital in Northern Ireland.

Referral process

At any stage in the public healthcare process in Ireland, you can decide to get healthcare in Northern Ireland under the NIPHS.

If you are unsure if you qualify for the NIPHS, contact the NIPHS office.

Public healthcare process in Ireland

The typical steps to get healthcare or treatment in a public hospital in Ireland are:

  1. Visit your GP to discuss your condition.
  2. Your GP refers you to a hospital consultant.
  3. You are put on a hospital waiting list to see the consultant.
  4. Your consultant arranges an appointment to see you - this is called an outpatient appointment.
  5. The consultant either puts you on a waiting list for treatment or discharges you back to your GP if you do not need hospital treatment.
  6. If you are on a waiting list for treatment, an appointment for hospital treatment is scheduled - this is called inpatient or day-case treatment.
  7. You have a follow up appointment with the consultant after your treatment.
  8. You are discharged back to your GP.

Your referral letter

The date on the referral letter must be before the date of your first appointment in Northern Ireland and include:

  • your name, address and date of birth
  • the name and address of a hospital or service and the clinical speciality
  • a summary of your condition and any diagnosis, if known
  • the reason for the referral or healthcare you need
  • the referring professional's signature - an electronic Healthlink referral does not need a signature

You do not have to use the consultant and hospital named in the referral letter. But your healthcare abroad must be the same medical speciality on your referral letter.

Referral for community-based services

Your GP or consultant can refer you for community-based services.

You can also be referred for some community-based services by:

  • public health nurses
  • community dentists
  • HSE orthodontists
  • other HSE health specialists

Read more about the types of healthcare available under NIPHS

Book a consultation in Northern Ireland

If you have a referral letter, contact the healthcare provider to book an outpatient consultation. You must have an outpatient consultation before you have treatment.

An outpatient consultation on a day before your admission may give you more time to decide if you:

  • are comfortable with the consultant and the hospital in Northern Ireland
  • want to go ahead with healthcare at a date in the future
  • have any questions before you get the healthcare

But an outpatient consultation can happen anytime before you receive treatment.

Accessing your medical records

You might need to give a copy of your medical records to your healthcare provider in Northern Ireland.

The GP or clinical referrer who referred you or the doctor in Northern Ireland can tell you the information you need to bring.

You can ask your GP or hospital in Ireland for your medical records.

Page last reviewed: 25 January 2022