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Access to Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland

The information on these pages are for people who are new to Northern Ireland, to help you understand how to get the health and social care services you need.

Health and Social Care Services in Northern Ireland are generally free of charge. However, if you have newly arrived, there may be some charges depending on your individual circumstances.

Health and Social Care (HSC)

In Northern Ireland medical and social care is referred to as Health and Social Care or HSC. HSC in Northern Ireland provides normal medical care services, critical and emergency care and also provides social care services like home care, family and children’s services, day care and social work services.


For patients who do not speak English as a first language, interpreting services are available free of charge. If you wish, an interpreter can be physically present during your appointment. This service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and all interpreters are bound by confidentiality. Let the doctor or receptionist know you need an interpreter.

Northern Ireland New Entrants Service (NINES)

NINES services are run in both Belfast and Southern Trusts for new entrants to Northern Ireland living in the Trust areas.

These nurse-led services offer support for the health and social wellbeing of newly-arrived immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers, and children aged 0-18 who are new to Northern Ireland and not registered with a GP who require screening for tuberculosis and blood-borne viruses. NINES complements and builds on existing services, to offer holistic health and social wellbeing assessments and screening; advice on aftercare and potential onward referral.

If you need to contact the NINES service in your area, use the details below:

Belfast Trust – Monday to Friday (028) 9504 2830

Southern Trust – Monday to Friday (028) 3756 1370

Access to medical services

How do you access medical services?

General Practitioners (GPs)

In Northern Ireland, local or family doctors are called General Practitioners or GPs. Your GP is normally the first point of contact for getting medical care here.

There are over 300 GP surgeries in Northern Ireland, you can find your closest surgery here 

About your General Practitioner (GP) or Family doctor

Services which may be provided by your local GP surgery include:

  • Medical advice and diagnosis
  • Physical examinations
  • Prescribing medication
  • Referrals for specialist care
  • Vaccinations (in line with the UK vaccination schedule)
  • Simple surgical operations
  • Monitoring pregnant women and babies
  • Advice on contraception
  • Clinics providing care for conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart conditions
  • Preventative healthcare such as cervical screening
Registering with your GP

You should register with a General Practitioner (GP) straight away when you arrive in Northern Ireland instead of waiting until you need health or social care services.

To use health and social care services, you must be registered with a local GP surgery.

To register, you will need to fill in an HSCR-1 form.

Once you have registered with your local GP, you will be issued with a medical card. It can take up to eight weeks for this to arrive.

Your medical card is an important medical document that entitles you to receive a range of medical services. Keep it safe.


Once registered with a GP surgery, if you need to speak to your doctor, you should make an appointment. This is usually done by phone. You may need to wait a few days for an appointment.

This can be a phone or a face to face appointment.

If your GP cannot deal with a problem then you’ll usually be referred to a hospital for tests, treatment, or to see a consultant with specialist knowledge.

Your GP may refer you to a specialist doctor at a hospital or you may need to go to hospital if you require emergency treatment.

Out of Hours and Urgent Care

If you have a medical problem and your GP is closed, Out of Hours services are available in the evenings, weekends and bank holidays. You can find out the details of these services by contacting your GP surgery or visiting this link.

For urgent or emergency care such as broken bones, burns, head injuries, or bad wounds, you should visit an Urgent Care or Minor Injuries Unit. These can be found here.


In the case of a serious accident or emergency, you must visit the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital or phone 999 or 112 for an ambulance.

Remember – an ambulance should only be called for real and life-threatening emergencies.

Pharmacy Services (The Chemist)

Pharmacists (sometimes called Chemists) are experts in medicines and how they work. Your family doctor or GP will issue a prescription for medicine which you take to a pharmacy to get the medicine. Without a prescription, you cannot get most medicine, except for some very simple medicines such as painkillers or cough and cold remedies, which you can also get in supermarkets and other stores.

Pharmacists can provide advice on basic illnesses such as coughs, colds and aches and pains. They also provide a range of services including emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, needle exchange, oxygen or incontinence supplies.

To find out more about community pharmacy services visit this link – Pharmacy First – DOH/HSCNI Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG)


To get dental care in Northern Ireland, you must register with a dentist the same way as you must register with a family doctor or GP. To register with a dentist, you must have a Medical Card.

You should check that the dentist you contact will treat you as a health service patient (HSC). You may have to pay for most dental services unless you are:

  • aged under 16
  • aged under 19 and in full-time education or
  • if you are pregnant

Find a Dentist in Northern Ireland –

If you are newly arrived in Northern Ireland, you may be able to get urgent or emergency dental care – find out by clicking this link – Emergency Dental Treatment – DOH/HSCNI Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG)

Optometrists (The Optician)

If you need to have your eyes tested, contact a registered Optometrist. Most people in Northern Ireland pay for optometry services unless they are aged under 16, aged under 19 and in full-time education, have certain conditions or receive certain benefits. If you are entitled to free treatment, you will also need your medical card to access it.

Optometry Services:  Information for Patients (

Social Workers

Social Workers give advice and support to people with a variety of social needs. This include relationships, alcohol or domestic problems, disability, general health and mental health issues and child protection.

Allied Health Professionals

Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) are of professionals who work within healthcare but who are not doctors or nurses. They work in areas such as:

  • Dietetics
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatry (feet)
  • Prosthetics and Orthotics (artificial limbs and feet support)
  • Orthoptics (eyes)
  • Paramedics
  • Radiography
  • Art Therapy
  • Drama Therapy
  • Music Therapy

They work with all age groups and within all specialties. Their particular skills and expertise can be the most significant factor in helping people to:

  • recover movement or mobility
  • overcome visual problems
  • improve their nutrition
  • develop communication skills
  • gain independence and everyday living skills

Hospital care

In Northern Ireland, hospitals provide a number of dedicated services including:

  • Emergency Departments (EDs) providing urgent and emergency treatment 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You should only attend an Emergency Department if your condition is urgent or an emergency.
  • In-patient Services such as operations or intensive specialist treatment where patients stay in hospital for one night or
  • Day Services – small operations and investigations, patients are discharged on the same day they arrive.
  • Out-patient Services – appointments with specialist doctors or care professionals (such as Nurses or Allied Health Professionals).

All Other Services

Maternity Services

If you are planning to have a baby or think you might be pregnant, you should contact your family doctor or GP as soon as possible. Your family doctor can confirm your pregnancy, refer you to maternity services and offer health advice.

Family Planning Services

Family Planning Services offer free advice on contraception and cervical screening as well as sexual health screening, advice and treatment. They can also provide contraception and pregnancy testing.

These services are provided by local Family Planning Clinics and by some family doctors or GPs.

You can get details of Family Planning Clinics from your GP surgery, Midwife or Health Visitor. Family Planning Services are free and totally confidential.

Sexual Health Services

Clinics that specialise in sexually transmitted infections are called genito-urinary medicine (GUM) and sexual health clinics. You can find your local clinic here:

Child and Adult Protection Services

There can be circumstances where Social Workers may have to intervene to protect children or adults from harm or abuse. Social services in Northern Ireland have a legal duty to protect those who are at risk of or who have experienced abuse or ill-treatment.

If you have any concerns about the safety or well-being of a child, or you think they may be at risk of harm, please contact the child care Gateway Team using the numbers below:

Belfast Trust: 028 9050 7000
Northern Trust: 0300 1234333
Western Trust: 028 7131 4090
South Eastern Trust: 0300 1000300
Southern Trust: 0800 7837745

If you have any concerns about the safety or well-being of an adult, or you think they may be at risk of harm, please contact the Adult Protection service using the numbers below:

Belfast Trust: 028 95041744
Northern Trust: 028 9441 3659
Western Trust: 028 71611366/ 028 82835960
South Eastern Trust: 028 92501227
Southern Trust: 028 3756 4423

An Emergency Social Work Service for adults or children can be contacted in the evenings, weekends or during public holidays using: 028 9504 9999

In an emergency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) can also contacted using 999.

Mental Health Services

If you have a mental health problem, you should see your family doctor or GP first. They will assess the problem and may either provide medication and monitor your condition or refer you to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor, if necessary.

Services for People with a Disability

Throughout Northern Ireland, a range of health and social care services are provided to meet the needs of people with disabilities including learning, mental, physical, and sensory, and their family or carers. These services include assessments, counselling, help with daily living and the provision of specialist equipment, as well as rehabilitation, advocacy and respite care services.

Your family doctor or GP will be able to provide you with further information on the services that are available.

Childhood Immunisation Programme

Immunisation or vaccination is the best and safest way to stop your baby or child becoming sick from serious infectious diseases such as measles.

You can get immunisation through vaccinations. Immunisation is also known as ‘vaccination’, ‘jab’ or ‘injection’. Find out more about the childhood vaccination programme:

Where else can you get key Advice and Information?

Further advice and information on all of the above topics can be obtained from:

Your local Health and Social Care Trusts:

Helplines Network NI

The website offers a single point of access to Northern Ireland helpline numbers and websites, where people can find the right helpline to suit their needs.

Other useful contacts include:

Your local Elected Representatives

What if you are unhappy with the service you receive?

Complaints Procedure

Everyone who uses Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland is entitled to make a complaint.  Making a complaint does not affect your rights and will not result in the loss of any service you have been assessed as needing.

How to make a Complaint about a Health Care Provider

If you would like an apology, an explanation or a review of your treatment, you should first contact the place where you received care. The hospital, GP practice, private hospital or clinic where you received care has its own complaints procedures. Please contact them for details.

You can find details of the Northern Ireland health service complaints procedures at

If you, a family member or someone you care for has a concern or issue about health or social care, the Patient and Client Council (PCC) can support you, so your voice is heard. Contact the PCC on Freephone: 0800 917 0222, Monday to Friday 9am – 4pm (Excluding Bank Holidays) or email