Despite government cuts, Spain continues to provide very good public healthcare, though waiting times for some procedures have increased. However you will have to fulfil certain criteria to be able to use the service, so it’s really important to try and understand the system.
UK Pensioners are covered and can use Spanish healthcare – it’s actually the British government that pays for their citizens.
Anyone who is legally resident in Spain is entitled to benefit from Spanish healthcare and the social security system, providing they fall under one of these categories: full time workers, self-employed or students. You will need to apply for a social security number at your local Social Security office and with that you have to go to your local medical centre, where you will receive your medical card. Employers will usually do this on behalf of new employees, but other people will need to go themselves or employ a gestor to do it on their behalf. Please note that you must have registered at your local town hall to be eligible for a health card.
Expats who are not resident in Spain are able to use a pay-in scheme called the convenio especial, otherwise they will not be covered. EHIC cards are for emergency care only and should not be confused with a medical card.
Dentistry and ophthalmology are not covered by the public health service. Many people take out private health insurance to cover these, and all medical services, as waiting times are much less and you will have more choice of doctors and treatments.
Spanish hospitals are generally very good, clean and up to date. However, visiting hours are much longer than in the UK, and this can result in a lot of noise for prolonged periods which can be difficult for recovering patients. Medical care in hospitals is excellent and A&E services are usually quick and thorough. For most people though, the first port of call will be their local medical centre, centro de salud or centro de asistencia primaria or CAP), and many operate a 24 hour emergency service. You will need to register with a doctor once you have received your medical card and in many areas you will find they speak English.
Sometimes there may be a considerable wait for an appointment with your GP, and if you believe your problem is urgent, you can go to the emergency service at your local CAP. They do not like time wasters, but will provide immediate care when necessary or refer you to the local hospital.
Chemists are to be found on almost every street in Spain. Everyone, including pensioners, contributes to the cost of medicines but the amount you pay depends on your income. Those who work and earn less than 18,000€ a year will pay 40% of the cost, between 18,000€ and 100,000€ will pay 50% & over 100,000€ will be 60%. Pensioners with an income of less than 18,000€ pay 10%. Certain registered chemists can offer medical consultations and advice on treatments.
Dentists, as mentioned, are not covered by your medical card. Ask neighbours for a recommendation or find one in the telephone directory. You can just call and make an appointment. Similarly, you can go to any optician for an eye test.
The care for pregnant women in Spain is highly regarded, and the public sector offers and excellent service from the moment pregnancy is confirmed to the birth.
Finally, here are some important telephone numbers: For emergencies, dial 112, for ambulances 060. It is quite possible that the person who answers will speak some English, but don’t count on it.