I am often asked, “Will I need health insurance in the Canary Islands?” to which my answer is always, “Yes, of course”. This is usually followed by a comment that “I have the European Health Card, surely that will cover me?”
In theory, the answer is that it should, but in reality, it rarely does. To be clear, the European Health Card is mainly intended for an emergency, such as a life and death situation when emergency treatment is required. It is not intended to deal with existing conditions, minor ailments, sunburn and too much booze, which are often the main complaints. If you are taken ill on holiday, there is a good chance that the hotel or holiday complex will call a private ambulance and not one from the National Health Service. The reason is simple; the hotel will receive a commission on your misfortune. The private ambulance will, in turn, take you to a private hospital. Again the reason is simple; the ambulance company will receive a commission from the hospital. Yes, you will probably receive very good treatment, but only after your credit card has been debited with a large deposit, and a larger bill to follow.
Some time ago, I was waiting at the check-in desk of one of the private hospitals on the island. At my side was a distraught holidaymaker, Adrian, from the UK who was trying to get his wife, Ellen, admitted to the hospital for emergency treatment. Ellen had a collapsed lung and was waiting in the private ambulance outside. The hospital refused Adrian’s European Health Card, and it was only when Adrian agreed to a 3000 euros debit from his credit card as a ‘deposit’, would they agree to admit Ellen into the hospital for treatment, despite Ellen being in considerable pain, and having difficulty in breathing without assistance. To add insult to injury, before the ambulance staff would agree to release Ellen from the ambulance, Adrian had to pay a substantial fee for their service.
Later, I met up with Adrian who was waiting outside the hospital. He looked pale and was clearly very anxious. I asked him if I could help and he told me that they were due to leave for home the following day and that the hospital had told him that Ellen would not be fit to travel for some time, and only after a number of expensive tests and procedures had been completed. Adrian did not have enough funds to pay the hospital bills, nor would he have any accommodation for himself the following day. Adrian would have to call friends and family in the UK to ask for money to be sent out to help him until his wife could travel home. He had no mobile phone and so I let him use mine.
It was a desperate situation that I have heard many times before. Adrian and Ellen had booked a last minute, cheap, package holiday, but had decided not to buy the optional travel and health insurance, because they already had a European Health Card. In these circumstances, the card would be of no use, unless they could negotiate with the hospital for Ellen’s transfer to the National Health Hospital, which in my experience rarely takes place following admission to a private hospital. Either way, Adrian and Ellen would have a huge financial problem to deal with upon their return home.
I have just heard of another very sad story of a holidaymaker who died upon arrival at one of the islands. Again, the couple had no insurance, nor means of paying to get the body home, which alone would cost around 7000 euros. I understand that generous friends and family are currently trying to raise funds in the UK to assist the widow. At times of sickness and bereavement, worry about money should be of the least concern.
Finally, do be careful of those private hospitals that advertise acceptance of the European Health Card. They may do, but not for all conditions and not in all circumstances. My best advice is always to take out health and travel insurance before you come on holiday, or bring a credit card with a very large credit limit, just in case.
© Barrie Mahoney