Always one to drag its feet when it comes to implementing EU directives that are not of particular interest to the government, the Spanish Cabinet finally approved a decree last week that will give the green light to cross-border healthcare across the European Union – which was actually passed in 2011.

The directive specifically grants all EU citizens the fundamental right to access the healthcare system in all member states, thus promoting free circulation of people, goods and services within the EU.


Under this decree Spanish patients will now be able to select which EU country they would prefer their medical treatment carried out in, in the case that they don’t want to be treated in their home country – as is the case with all other citizens within the European Union.

However, with this scheme EU nationals are given the right to access medical treatment, of a non-emergency nature, in another country of their choice, but under the regulations and tariffs of its own country. This is the opposite of how it was before.

For example, a Spanish resident can now go and seek hospital care in the Czech Republic, and he will be charged as he would in Spain, his own country. If the treatment is free in Spain but you have to pay for it in the Czech Republic, the patient will receive the treatment for free. Previously, it would have been the other way round and the patient would have to pay Czech rates, losing out if the treatment in that country was more expensive.

The cost of the medical treatment will be picked up by each patient’s own government, but the care will have to be paid for upfront and then the patient must apply for a reimbursement on returning home.

Whatever type of treatment or medical service available through the patients’ own national health system can be requested abroad, although not everything is covered and patients are advised to check first before making any plans.

The scheme covers treatment in both state and private hospitals.

It is thought that Spain will receive an influx of visitors wanting to receive healthcare in Spain, particularly as this country is renowned for its first-class doctors, surgeons and hospital care – all generally cheaper than in most other countries.

Already many Scandinavians come to this country for dental treatment as it is cheaper to pay for a flight and hotel and have the treatment carried out here than paying for dental care over there. It is expected that a greater number of northern Europeans will travel to Spain for medical treatment now that the decree has been approved.

This could actually benefit Spain’s private healthcare system as EU patients will have to be treated but not at Spain’s expense. The treatment will be charged according to the tariff of the affiliated country – practically all of which are more expensive than in Spain.

On the other hand, the State Council, the Government’s principal advisory body, has already raised concerns that Spain’s healthcare system and resources could be put under severe strain if too many people come to this country to access health care. Hospitals and doctors in some regions, particularly those with a high number of foreigners and elderly residents, are already under pressure, with Spanish residents having to wait a ridiculous amount of time, in some cases, for certain treatments.

It has been warned that waiting lists could be extended even further once demand for Spanish healthcare rises.