Hospitals in Spain
The state health system in Spain includes a comprehensive network of hospitals. Spanish hospitals are conveniently located, so that patients do not have to travel far to reach their local hospital. Plus, medical treatment at state hospitals is free of charge for patients. For scheduled hospital appointments and treatment, patients have to ask their GP for a referral. In an emergency, patients can go directly to A&E (accident and emergency) at the nearest hospital, without a referral.
However, this is where a weakness in the Spanish health system becomes apparent. Since waiting times for medical appointments with specialists are often very long, many Spaniards use A&E to speed up the process. They describe their situation as an emergency and exaggerate their problems in order to be treated immediately. The result is that it is not uncommon to spend hours waiting in A&E.
In addition to the state hospitals, there are also private hospitals or private clinics within the state institutions. Here, patients can enjoy certain advantages but must have private health insurance or bear the costs themselves.
Getting hospital treatment in Spain if you don’t have overseas health insurance
Some statutory health insurers may allow patients to receive treatment from a Spanish GP. If further treatment is needed, the GP can then refer the patient to a state hospital. The referral always includes the name and address of the hospital where the treatment must be carried out. The patient is not free to choose the hospital under these circumstances.
You should always check with your insurer whether you need to pay for the treatment in advance (and double check that you will be reimbursed later). In some cases, the hospital charges the health insurance provider directly. However, communication in state hospitals can be difficult if the patient does not speak Spanish. Some hospitals – especially in popular tourist areas – employ interpreters for this purpose. In other hospitals, doctors and patients have to communicate as best they can using gestures and facial expressions.
This is why many tourists choose to have treatment in a private hospital. Here, many doctors speak English and additional services can be booked, such as more comfortable rooms. Of course, these services have their price. Normally, the treatment costs must be borne by the patient.
Getting hospital treatment in Spain if you have overseas health insurance
The cover provided by many international health insurance policies enables travellers to use private health services in Spain. In this case, you first pay the hospital bill yourself, but you can then submit the paperwork to the health insurance company for reimbursement.
However, it is important to carefully check the insurance terms and conditions. Normally, the policies only cover acute cases. If a pre-existing health condition gets worse during your holiday, the insurance company will not normally take over the costs. Some other benefits may also be excluded – for example, the provision of a ‘medically reasonable’ medical repatriation from Spain.