The number of people with private health insurance is the highest it has been since 2008, according to Dermot Goode, health insurance expert with Totalhealthcover.ie.

36,000 people signed up for private health insurance last year, bringing overall membership numbers to 2.3m by December 2020.

Mr Goode said the market grew during the worst of the pandemic.

"Our expectation was that the market would contract somewhat due to uncertainty over jobs and incomes in some industry sectors, but the market has bucked this trend and continues to perform well.

"We won’t have final figures for quarter one 2021 until later in the year but early indications are that the market will continue to grow incrementally," said Mr Goode.

From speaking with consumers that are contemplating signing up to health insurance, Mr Goode said people seem increasingly concerned that waiting lists across the public hospitals are likely to grow further as a result of the pandemic; hence their decision to apply for private health insurance.

"The last time the health insurance market in Ireland peaked at 2.3 million members was in December 2008.

"The market then went through a period of turmoil during the economic downtown with total membership falling to just over 2 million in December 2014.

"Worse still, most of those who cancelled were the young, healthier lives which put further upward pressure on claims costs, driving premiums higher," he said.

Mr Goode said since then, the market has slowly clawed back these losses.