One of the seven hospitals, the Hospital de Granollers, has installed 96 reclining armchairs in its 300 rooms and if visitors want to lie down, they have to pay five euros for the privilege of fully reclining the armchair.
The other hospitals are located in Vic, Sant Celoni, La Seu d'Urgell, Berga, Sant Pere de Ribes, Campdevànol and Blanes – all in Catalonia.
Special payment machines sell cards which are used to work the chairs and family members can buy tickets per night or in a five night block for €20 in the pilot scheme.
Angry relatives have complained that the chairs, installed by Girona-based company Decam, discriminate against those who cannot afford to pay to use them.
Carmen Padullés, head of services at the Hospital de Granollers in Barcelona told Spanish daily 20 minutos that the hospital had received 17 complaints about the chairs, but many more requests to use the service:
"We’ve had more requests for them than complaints," she said, adding that the number of complaints was "negligible" compared to the number of people requesting to be put on the waiting list to use the chairs.
She explained that the hospital had decided to use the prepaid chairs because it meant that all their old chairs, which did not recline, could be replaced without cost.
"In the past few years the budget restriction didn’t allow hospitals to replace old chairs with new ones with features like our chairs, so getting the replaced at no cost is a reasonable option for the hospitals," Miquel Munsó, business developer for Decam, told The Local.
Munsó also emphasized that Decam’s chairs are useful not only to the patient and his or her family, but also to the hospital staff.
"The chair allows the nurses to transport the patient to different parts of the hospital, avoiding transfer from the chair to a wheelchair and also automatically helps the nurses to lift the patient into a standing position."
Decam, which charges around €1,000 per chair, has an arrangement with the hospitals in which it gives them the chairs for free in exchange for recuperating the money made from visitors using the seats. The scheme puts seating in the same league as other prepaid hospital services such as televisions.
While family members have to pay for the service, patients can use the reclining chairs for free.
Pilar Morató from Decam said she did not understand the complaints because the new chairs were much more comfortable than the old ones:
"Some people don’t mind spending €20 to watch television but they won’t spend five euros to have a comfortable night’s sleep," she told 20 minutos.