The VHI is to deny access to its popular SwiftCare clinics to people unless they have a health insurance with it from the beginning of September.
The decision will mean that the vast majority of people living in the State will no longer be able to use the fee-paying service which many have viewed as a viable alternative to visiting hospital accident and emergency units.
The VHI is the State’s largest private health-insurance provider, with just over one million customers and €1.5 billion in annual premium income.
The move is likely to put further pressure on the already over extended A&E units, as tens of thousands of non-VHI customers, who would have used the service, will no longer be able to do so.
There are a number of other privately run clinics operating around the State but the news is still likely to come as a blow to many people in Dublin and Cork who have health insurance with other providers and those who do not have health insurnace at all.
The company said the decision had been taken to ensure “speed of access for VHI customers to the facilities”.
The clinics which were first opened 12 years ago and were the State’s first walk-in, urgent care clinics, providing treatment, treatment and advice for patients with minor injuries and illnesses.
They are designed to treat fractures, sprains or possible breaks, lacerations or cuts that need stitching, sports injuries, minor burns and scalds. It also treats minor illnesses including fever, infections and rashes, eye injuries, insect and animal bites, as well as joint, muscular and back pain.
They operate out of units in Dundrum, Swords and Cork and are are open 365 days a year from 8am to 10pm. The clinics charge €125 for a consultation with a doctor and up to €95 per additional treatment.
Latest accounts for VHI Investments Ltd indicate that the clinics achieved turnover of €13.8 million in 2015 and a pretax profit of €2.8 million.
They are now fully owned by VHI Group following the clearance by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) of the acquisition of the 50 per cent of the VHI Swiftcare Clinics previously owned by Centric Health in May 2017.
"The VHI SwiftCare Clinics have become increasingly popular, to the point where VHI customers have sometimes struggled to access them," said the company's marketing director Declan Moran.
“The number of people availing of the service has grown year on year and this has caused us to evaluate how best to deliver services through these popular facilities.”