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What health care can I get on the NHS?

This advice applies to Northern Ireland


Legal abortions are available to women in Northern Ireland only in very limited circumstances.

You can get general advice and information about getting an abortion from your GP or family planning clinics.

Alternative medicine

Some forms of alternative medicine (also known as complementary medicine) are available through the NHS from certain GPs and hospitals. Therapies which may be available through the NHS are acupuncture, osteopathy, homeopathy and chiropractic.


Ambulances provide both emergency and routine transport for NHS patients. Emergency ambulances can be contacted through the emergency telephone service (999). Ambulances for routine journeys can be arranged through GPs, hospitals or, through the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening is available on the NHS at three-yearly intervals if you are a woman aged between 50 and 64. If you are a woman aged over 64, you can be screened on request. Contact your GP for more information. For more information about NHS breast cancer screening, visit the nidirect website at

Cervical screening

Cervical screening is available on the NHS every three to five years if you are a woman aged between 20 and 64. If you are a woman over 64, you can be screened on request. Contact your GP for more information. For more information about NHS cervical screening, visit the nidirect at


Contraceptive advice and supplies are available free on the NHS through GPs and family planning clinics.

You can get emergency contraception, for example, the morning-after pill, from your GP, family planning clinics, most NHS walk-in centres and some pharmacies.


Chiropody may be available on the NHS free of charge, although this depends on your local Health Board. Each case is assessed on an individual basis and whether you get free treatment depends on how serious your condition is and your risk factor. If your health or mobility is not affected, you are considered to be ‘low-risk’ and you may not get NHS chiropody. If you have diabetes, you are treated as a high priority case. You must normally be referred to a chiropodist by a GP or clinic.  If you do not qualify for NHS treatment, you will need to arrange private treatment.

For more information about chiropody, visit the nidirect at

Community care

If you are elderly, disabled, or mentally ill, you may need help to continue living at home. For example, you may need someone to come in and help with personal things like washing and dressing. Or you might need help with cooking or shopping. You should contact your local Health and Social Care Trusts to find out what help may be available in your area.

However, if you need nursing care, this should be provided by the NHS. For example, your GP can arrange for a district nurse to visit you (see under heading District nurses).

If you have been in hospital, you should not be discharged until you have had an assessment of your continuing health care needs and, where necessary, of your community care needs. A doctor may decide, for example, that you need a package of health and social care to be able to return home.

If you are discharged from hospital needing a high level of continuing health care, this should be provided and funded by the NHS. This could be provided in a hospital, a care home, a hospice or in your own home.

For more information about community care, see Community care

Counselling services

Some GP practices provide free counselling services on the NHS. Contact your GP for more information.


You can get a list of dentists who provide NHS treatment from the HSC website at

You have to pay for NHS dental treatment, although some groups of people may get free treatment.

For more information about free dental treatment see Help with health costs

Community nurses

Community nurses are nurses employed by the NHS to provide nursing care for patients who are living at home. For example, they can change dressings or give injections. They are based at GP surgeries and health centres and can also be contacted through local community nursing offices.

For more information about community nurses visit nidirect at

General Practitioners (GPs)

Everyone is entitled to be registered with a GP. For help in finding a GP you can visit

As well as providing health advice and treatment, GPs provide check-ups, take cervical smears, give vaccinations against infectious diseases (immunisations) and sign certificates for people unable to work because of illness. Many GPs also provide health promotion clinics, contraceptive services, minor surgery, counselling, maternity services and medical examinations for insurance and other purposes (for which they may make a charge).

For more information about GPs, see NHS patients’ rights

Health services in prison

Prisoners should have access to the same range and quality of health services, including mental health services, as the general public receives from the NHS.

Health visitors

Health visitors provide support through the NHS for families with children under five and for older patients. They are normally based at GP surgeries.


See under heading Terminal care.


Most NHS hospital admissions and appointments take place through referrals by GPs. You can go to the Accident and Emergency department without a referral. You can also go to a special clinic for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases without a referral.

For more information about hospitals, see NHS patients’ rights


See under heading Vaccinations.

Infertility treatment

If you need infertility treatment, and your GP refers you to a specialist for further tests, the NHS will pay for this. You have the right to be referred to a NHS clinic for a first investigation. However, infertility treatment is not widely available on the NHS and there can be long waiting lists. The treatment available also depends where you live and what the problem is. Your GP will tell if you are eligible for NHS treatment.

Maternity services

If you are pregnant, there are a number of different services available to you. These include:

  • midwives. Your midwife might be based either in a hospital or in a local health centre or clinic. Midwives are responsible for the care of all normal pregnancies and labours. You do not need to be referred to a midwife by your GP.
  • a GP. Not all GPs provide ante-natal care and arrange for delivery. If your GP does not provide this service, you might want to register with another GP for your maternity care.
  • In Northern Ireland, you can get more information about local GP services from nidirect.
  • an obstetrician based in a hospital. An obstetrician is a doctor specialising in caring for women and children during pregnancy, birth and post-natal. Usually, an obstetrician will only get involved if there are complications. But you can ask to see an obstetrician even if your midwife or GP is providing all your care.

What kind of antenatal care do you want?

You might have choices on the type of ante-natal care you want and where you give birth. How much choice you have will depend on where you live. Your choices could include:

  • full hospital care. This would only happen, in practice, if you require a high degree of medical intervention
  • shared care between your GP and the hospital. Normally, you would return home shortly after the birth
  • a home birth, with care provided by a midwife and possibly a GP. You have the right to have your baby at home. If you choose this, you might need to contact the supervisor of midwives to arrange for this. You must be prepared to transfer from home into hospital if complications arise during labour or delivery.

You can get information on local maternity services from your Local Health Board, a health visitor or GP. This information will include:

  • the type of care offered
  • where the birth can take place
  • what pain relief is available
  • what tests are available and what they are for.

In some areas, there are maternity charters which set out the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, and the standards of service you can expect.

If you are having problems getting the type of care you want, or you need more information on maternity services in your area, you should contact the supervisor of midwives at your local maternity hospital or at or local Health Trust.

Other help you can get when you're pregnant

If you are pregnant, you get free prescriptions and dental treatment from the time when the pregnancy is confirmed until one year after the birth.

If you are on a low income, you might also get other help if you are pregnant, for example, vouchers to help with the cost of milk, fruit or vegetables. If you are under 18 and pregnant, you can get this help whatever your income.

Older people’s services

You can get a number of NHS services if you are an older person. For example, GPs should offer annual health checks to patients aged 75 and over. Help is available from health visitors and district nurses - see under heading Community care.

Optical services

Optometrists carry out eye tests to check the quality of your sight. They look for signs of eye disease which may need treatment from a doctor or eye surgeon and they prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses. Opticians fit and sell glasses but they do not test eyes. They can give you advice on types of lens, such as single vision or bifocal and help you to choose frames. If you go to a high-street optician, you'll have your eyes tested by an optometrist but you do not have to buy your glasses there. You could take an optometrist's prescription to an optician who will sell you the glasses you need.

You have to pay for eye tests, glasses and contact lenses. But some people can get free eye tests and vouchers towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses. This includes:-

  • all children under 16
  • some young people under 19
  • people aged 60 or over
  • people with certain eye conditions
  • people entitled to certain benefits
  • anyone else on a low income.

For more information about who can get free optical treatment see Help with health costs


Pharmacists (also known as chemists) are responsible for dispensing medicines. They can also provide free information and advice about many common medical problems.

For information about whether you have to pay for prescriptions you get at the chemists, see Help with health costs


Physiotherapy is physical treatment that helps you regain use of your body after an injury or disease. It is also used to slow the progression of long-term conditions. It is available through the NHS to patients referred for treatment by GPs or hospitals.

For more about physiotherapy, visit nidirect at


Doctors, dentists and some nurses can prescribe a range of drugs and appliances on the NHS. They can normally only prescribe a limited quantity of a drug at any time (usually one month’s supply).

For information about who can get free prescriptions, Help with health costs

School health

Health checks on school children are carried out by the school nurse. These tests include tests on hearing, sight and growth. Parents have the right to be present at these checks. School nurses also provide health education and general advice on managing health problems in school.

Sexual and reproductive health clinics

There are a number of clinics that provide specialist sexual health and reproductive health services. At these clinics you can get services like:

  • family planning
  • well woman advice and information
  • services for young people.

In Northern Ireland, Genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics, known as Sexual Health Clinics, provide tests for sexually transmitted infections.

Appointments for GUM clinics are by appointment only. To get an appointment, you can contact the clinic directly, or ask your GP to make a referral for you.

For more information on GUM clinics in Northern Ireland, including contact details, you can visit nidirect at

Substance misuse

Some people can use substances such as alcohol or drugs on a regular basis without any problems. Other people experience damaging psychological and physical effects as their habit turns into an addiction. There are many different organisations that provide treatment, support and advice for people with addictions. You could choose to consult your GP first, but help is also available from community addiction centers where you can drop in without an appointment. Treatment and support is provided from a range of different people, including specialist nurses, counselors and psychiatrists.

You can get more information about alcohol abuse on nidirect at

Terminal care

Terminal care (sometimes called palliative care) is the treatment of symptoms where cure is no longer considered an option, in other words, when someone is dying. Terminal care concentrates on:-

  • controlling pain and other symptoms
  • improving the quality of life for the patient and their family
  • meeting the patient's social, emotional and spiritual needs.

NHS terminal care may be given in hospital or at home. There are also a number of NHS hospices providing care for patients as well as hospices run by voluntary organisations.

For information about how to find a hospice, visit the website of Hospice Information (

For more information about the help and support available when you or someone you know is dying, you can also visit the website of Marie Curie Cancer Care at

Travel to hospital for treatment

You may be able to get essential travel costs paid to and from hospital for NHS treatment, for example, if you are on a low income or getting benefits like Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the guarantee part of Pension Credit or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. For information on how to claim, visit nidirect at

For more information about help with health costs, see Help with health costs


Vaccinations (also called immunisation) protect you against different infectious diseases. The NHS provides vaccinations for children and some adults. A charge may be made for vaccinations needed for overseas travel.

For more information about vaccinations, contact your GP or visit nidirect, at

Further information

You can visit nidirect for general health service information, at

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