'Foreigners can't always get Spanish health care'
George Mills · 29 May 2013, 11:23
Published: 28 May 2013 18:23 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 May 2013 11:23 GMT+02:00
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In mid-May, a visit to a medical centre turned into a headache for the British parents of a Spanish-born baby.
The couple, both registered Spanish residents, went to the Aragonese town of Caspe to seek medical attention for their eight-month old baby.
Their child, who had a temperature of 41C, was refused treatment because she only had a provisional national health service card, despite having been born in the Spanish city of Denia.
Both of the child's parents had valid health cards but this was deemed insufficient and they were asked to pay €132 before a doctor would attend to the baby.
Then, in late May, Alpha Pam, a young Senegalese man, died of tuberculosis after repeatedly being denied treatment for the serious but treatable condition.
After going to an outpatient’s clinic on seven occasions, Pam was finally sent to Comarca de Inca hospital to receive treatment.
Pam was then made to sign a guarantee of payment slip and finally given a general check-up. However, on May 22nd he passed away.
Pam's death may have been the first official case linked to new rules introduced last year which prevent undocumented immigrants from having a health card and only allow for their treatment in an emergency room, regardless of whether they have registered at their local town hall.
Spain's undocumented immigrants are able to register as living in an area, but this no longer guarantees them access to the country's health system.
Spain's government subsequently denied that racial discrimination played any role in Pam's death. "Unfortunately, mistakes are sometimes made but that has nothing to do with the health service," Health Minister Ana Mato said in Parliament.
The Balearic Islands’ Health Minister Martí Sansaloni then agreed to sack the director of Comarca de Inca Hospital.
Pam's death, however, shows how fraught life has become for Spain's health-care system, and for the foreigners who use it.
The situation has become particularly difficult since the Spanish government introduced Royal Decree (RD) 16/2012 in August last year.
The law, a series of "emergency measures", imposes severe cuts on the Spanish National Health System and states unregistered foreigners should be refused medical assistance except in emergency situations including serious illness and accidents.
Children under the age of 18 are the other exception: they are entitled to "same conditions of care as Spanish people".
A total of 873,000 people are potentially affected by the move, although not all of Spain's 17 autonomous regions have implemented the changes.