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Facultad de Derecho
Campus de Teatinos
29071 Málaga

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Recortes de Prensa

Scrounging foreigners? British expats accused of health tourism in Spain, 05 | 10 | 2009 - Reportaje

Doctors say other EU nationals are a drain on Spain’s medical service

Growing anger in Spain over British “health scroungers” has led to accusations that the country’s health services are increasingly being used by the estimated one million British people with homes in Spain to plug holes in the NHS.

Spanish doctors’ trades unions are leading the charge against what has become known as “scalpel tourism”, with easy-to-get hip and cataract operations allegedly attracting Britons who temporarily install themselves in Spain to skip queues at home.

The Simap trade union said that non-Spanish EU nationals in Alicante, where Britons are by far the largest group, now accounted for 15% to 20% of people treated in local hospitals.

“Spain’s health service is quick, free and offers a wide range of services,” said Dr Juan Benedito of Simaptoday. “It is not surprising that people come here.”

The Socialist former head of the Extremadura region of Spain, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, warned this week that “scrounge tourism” was bleeding money out of Spain’s health service.

Málaga’s Costa del Sol hospital is among those to notice an increase in the number of British patients. “We get an increasing number of cases of foreigners who, taking advantage of the fact that they own a home on the Costa del Sol and that their own country does not cover all that we offer in Andalucía, decide to come to a hospital [here],” the hospital’s general manager, Antonio Pérez, told Sur newspaper.

Spanish media have been filling up with reports of so-called health scroungers. “Thousands of people from Britain, Germany and Scandinavia travel to Spain every year for operations that, frequently, are not covered by their own health system,” the ABC paper claimed recently.

One letter-writer to the 20 Minutos newspaper, Federico Avila, said his neighbours in Murcia, south-east Spain, travelled to their holiday home for an operation and then went back to Britain as soon as it was done. “As soon as he was allowed out of hospital they packed their bags and went home, not without first thanking us Spaniards for everything,” he said.

Charity workers who help Britons with health problems in Spain say there is evidence that some who live in both countries – known in expat jargon as “dippers” – cherrypick the best health services from each place. “I haven’t come across anyone who has come to Spain specifically for an operation, though,” said Pat Lee-Patten, of the Help charity in Alicante province, who rejected the idea that expats’ activities amounted to health tourism.

Lee-Patten said added confusion was caused by British residents who did not bother to sign on with Spanish health authorities and then asked for treatment using health cards meant for tourists.

Bryan Arthur, an “on-and-off” resident of Britain and Spain, chose to have an aortic valve operation at a Costa Blanca hospital because he could get it in two months rather than six, he said.”The surgeon in the Costa Blanca hospital spoke English quite well, said I was in urgent need of attention and could accept me in two months and the charge would be on their national health service,” he wrote on the euroresidentes website. “So I signed the papers, had the preliminary catheterisation and eventually was admitted.”

Squabbling over funds is at the root of the complaints, with health authorities in Spain saying that they do not receive adequate compensation for treating EU citizens.

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