Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland

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Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC) is the designation of the publicly funded service responsible for the administration of the public health and other social care services in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive through its Health Department is responsible for the funding of the service. It is free of charge to all citizens of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. For services such as A&E, patients simply walk in, state their name and date of birth, are given treatment and then leave. Patients are unaware of costs incurred by them using the service. It is sometimes called the "NHS", as in England, Scotland and Wales, but differs in that it provides not only health care but social care too. In England, Scotland and Wales, the three NHS services only provide health care. Social services are provided by local councils. The Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Service was created by the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1948 after the Beveridge Report.


The Department is organised under a Permanent Secretary into several groups and one agency. These are the Planning and Resources Group, Strategic Planning and Modernisation Group and Primary, Secondary and Community Care Group and the 5 Professional Groups. The Department’s Executive Agency is the Health and Social Services Estates Agency (known as Health Estates).[1]

The five professional groups are

  • Medical and Allied Services[2]
  • Social Services Inspectorate[3]
  • Nursing and Midwifery Advisory Group[4]
  • Dental Services[5]
  • Pharmaceutical Advice and Services[6]


Trusts are the statutory bodies responsible for the management of staff, health and social care services on the ground and have control their own budgets. The 19 Health and Social Services Trusts were merged into six Health and Social Care Trusts which became operational on 1 April 2007.

The 5 regional trusts are:[7]

Ambulance Service[edit]

Northern Ireland also has its own dedicated Ambulance Service.

Primary Care[edit]

There are about 350 GP Practices in the province.[8]

Prescription charges[edit]

On 29 September 2008 Health minister Michael McGimpsey announced that Prescription charges were to be phased out by April 2010, being first reduced to £3.00 in January 2009.[9] This was widely accepted by the four main parties of the Northern Ireland Executive plus the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. The move will bring Northern Ireland in line with the Welsh system which has already abolished charges, and Scotland which plans to do the same.


In Northern Ireland health and social care have been part of the same structure since 1974 but according to Terry Bamford "integration has failed to address a reliance on hospitals and institutional care which is significantly greater than elsewhere in the UK." He says that there are various reasons for this. It is difficult to get resources out of acute care without closing buildings, which is a political problem particularly in rural areas. Information technology systems may not be compatible and patient confidentiality hinders the sharing of information. Health services are free but social care is means tested. But, he says, "the greatest difficulties lie in the different cultures and values of health and social care." [10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Northern Ireland Health and Social Services Estates Agency". 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  2. ^ "Northern Ireland - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety". Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  3. ^ "Northern Ireland - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety". Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety". Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  5. ^ "Chief Dental Officer | DHSSPS (NI)". 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  6. ^ "Northern Ireland - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety". Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  7. ^ "Health and Social Care Trusts". NI Direct. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "The National Health Service (NHS) Updated October 2012" (PDF). Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "UK | Northern Ireland | NI to scrap prescription charges". BBC News. 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  10. ^ Bamford, Terry (30 April 2015). "Integration is not a cure-all for health and care – look at Northern Ireland". Guardian. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 

External links[edit]