EXPATRIATES have been accused of taking advantage of the liberal Spanish health service.

It comes as hospitals on the Costa del Sol are being stretched due to the extra demand from Britons owning homes on the coast.

Many are long-term UK residents who fly out to avoid NHS waiting lists or receive treatment that would otherwise not be provided for them back home.

In particular, hip and cataract operations are the procedures most sought after by Britons now flocking to Spain.

“We get an increasing number of cases of foreigners who are taking advantage of the fact that they own a home on the Costa del Sol,” said Costa del Sol Hospital general manager Antonio Perez.

“Knowing that their own country does not cover all that we offer in Andalucía, they decide to come here,” he added.

Dubbed “health scroungers” and “dippers” these Britons form part of a growing contingent of people from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia, who cherry pick Spain’s health services.

Former Extremadura leader Juan Carlos Rodriguez Ibarra warned this week that “scrounge tourism” was bleeding money out of Spain’s health service.
The phenomenon is now increasingly being covered in the Spanish press.

Leading Spanish daily ABC commented recently: “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.”

In a letter written to 20 minutos, a Spaniard wrote that his English neighbours in Murcia only came to Spain for an operation and left immediately afterwards.

“As soon as he was allowed out of hospital they packed their bags and went home, not without first thanking us Spaniards for everything,” wrote Francisco Avila.

Charity Age Care in Fuengirola, confirmed that many expatriates were using their European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) to receive treatment in a bid to avoid officially signing up for the Spanish health service.

Vice President Maurice Featherman explained: “People are coming out here with their health card and trying to claim emergency care and this is really straining the Spanish health system.

“They are not attempting to register because they are frightened of being increasingly taxed by the Spanish government, which is nonsense.

“The problem is rife here, people are abusing their European health cards and it is getting worse.”

“Now the expatriates who abide by the law are getting angry as they are all tarnished by the same brush.”

“The problem is rife here, people are abusing their European health cards and it is getting worse.”

His colleague Charles Betty however, insisted that the authorities were starting to clamp down on this issue.

Health trade union, Simap, confirmed that non-Spanish EU nationals in Alicante – with Britons by far the largest group – now accounted for up to 20 per cent of those treated in the region’s hospitals.

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

The ability to skip long NHS waiting lists is often the deciding factor for expatriates who share their time equally between Britain and Spain.

One patient, Bryan Arthur opted to have an aortic valve operation at a Costa Blanca hospital simply because he could be treated in two months, as opposed to six.

He wrote on the euroresidentes website: “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.

“So I signed the papers, had the preliminary catheterising and eventually was admitted.”

Subscribe to the Olive Press


  1. Why does the SAS not send out bills, but not only that, why don’t they chase these bills up and making sure they get paid? Or even insist on payment upfront if rights to treatment can’t be proved?

    No good bleating about health tourism when systems are so lax that any old Joe Bloggs can get into a hospital and have their hip or whatever replaced.

    My brother in law, non Spanish resident, non EU resident in fact, got DVT after a trip to Spain. Treatment was excellent, sorted him out, and they said the bill would be in the post. Three years later… not a sausage.

    On a completely different point, I was just wondering when Francisco Avila was going to thank the British, Germans and French for all the EU funds which have driven development in Spain over the last 20 odd years? Spain does not become a net contributor to the EU until 2013…

  2. This article seems to have been changed and republished for some reason, so let me repeat the facts. In Spain, if you are a pensioner and a resident, you are entitled to free recipricol healthcare. There is no “scalpel tourism” for people who are resident here and paying into the tax system, and likewise for resident pensioners too, who are quite entitled to have all the treatment thay require under EU law.

    Spain will bill the UK if paperwork is not in order. This frequently does not happen of course, and then the UK gets the blame for Spain’s inefficient paperwork procedures, which are notoriously error prone. In other words, they just forget to bill the correct country and then their figures are skewed and they start blaming the expats.

    As Justin correctly points out, Spain gets billions of euros from the EU, so they need to stop moaning and get their house in order, and they also need to stop publishing incorrect information about how foreigners are “cheating” the system.

    There is no “scrounge tourism” – Spain bills the UK when paperwork is not in order, or else the person is LEGALLY entitled to the treatment as a pensioner or as a person who is resident and tax resident. Simple as that.

    If a Spaniard came to the UK for treatment, there would be none of this polava.

  3. Regarding EHIC, this is for emergency treatment. It is nonsense to suggest people use EHIC for larger medical procedures. If they are, then it’s quite simple – Spain needs to say NO. This whole issue is a ‘non-problem’ – the systems are already in place to handle all of these procedures, so it must surely be Spain that is not implementing the necessary checks.

    The OP does love to write articles that stir up controversy where none exists…

  4. Unfortunately I am too busy with work, and writing is pretty poorly paid too, alas. Anyway, I don’t write the articles Chris, I just comment on them. I notice you didn’t comment on the article content, but instead are just stirring things up again, as normal lol.

  5. Why not SIMPLY do what they do in NY City? If there’s any doubt of payment for a NON life threatening procedure, have the patient pay first by Credit Card or Check, then let the patient get reimbursed from their Insurer or Government Agency. That puts the onus on the patient

  6. Fred – there is no ‘free treatment’. I have an S1 which means that any expenses incurred are paid for by the UK government, this system applies across the whole of the EU.

    the best of Spain – what happens if you don’t have insurance or cash to pay, last I heard there were 40 million Americans without any health cover?

    When I use any part of the French health care system they always ask for my Carte Vitale – if someone cannot provide this – you pay.

    If a foreigner cannot provide absolute proof of residency why does’nt the Spanish healthcare system charge them immediately.

  7. Stuart, yes I mentioned the reciprocal arrangement in my first post. As you correctly say, no one is getting ‘free treatment’ unless they are fraudulently obtaining it.

    Spain can determine residency using a number of factors, tax/bank records, IBI payments etc, so they already have the means at their disposal to accept or reject certain EHIC based treatments. The problems often arise when people choose to reside in both countries at the same time and lie to both authorities to make out they are in one location. Gradually these fraudulent cases are being detected as more and more data is shared between countries, especially passport data.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.