Every patient using health and social care services is to be given a unique number for their lifetime, to improve patient safety.

The Health Information and Quality Authority has published standards for "Individual Health Identifiers" (IHIs), which will be piloted in three areas this year.

The authority said IHIs will allow care to be delivered to the right patient, in the right place, at the right time.

No medical or clinical information will be stored on the IHI, which can used in both public and private health sectors.

HIQA's acting Director of Health Information Rachel Flynn said the unique, non-transferable number assigned to all people using health and social services will help reduce the number of incorrect medication cases or vaccinations, or admitting an incorrect patient for surgery.

It should also reduce duplication and administration work and will be important for implementing electronic health records and ePrescribing.

Health Service Executive chief information officer Richard Corbridge said the system will be piloted in the areas of epilepsy electronic patient records, one multi-GP general practice and the electronic medical records in a hospice.

He said the HSE has built the infrastructure required to deliver IHIs at a national level and the system can go live nationally, once the final elements of legislation are in place and a privacy impact assessment is published.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the system will allow the service to follow patients and staff as they move through the health service in a way that it currently cannot.

The cost of introducing the system has not yet been established.

The HSE will be responsible for safely storing all personal data required for the use of the identifiers.

Ms Flynn said the introduction of IHIs is to ensure safety within the health services.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, she said most European countries have a health identifier system and it is hoped the system will be fully implemented in Ireland within a number of years.

The Irish Patients' Association has said that there will be privacy issues, on an individual and community level, that need to be dealt with under the plan.

Stephen McMahon said that the marginalised in society who may not have set addresses also need to be properly included in the system.

He also expressed concern about the power of the minister of the day to decide which agencies could have access to material in the health record.