Why Falling Ill in Greece Could Leave You with a [Pounds Sterling]17,000 Bill; HUGE DEBTS FORCE CUTS TO STATE HEALTH SERVICES; NOW TOURISTS MAY BE DENIED VITAL FREE CARE; TRAVELLERS TOLD: DON'T GO WITHOUT INSURANCE

Daily Mail (London), June 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Why Falling Ill in Greece Could Leave You with a [Pounds Sterling]17,000 Bill; HUGE DEBTS FORCE CUTS TO STATE HEALTH SERVICES; NOW TOURISTS MAY BE DENIED VITAL FREE CARE; TRAVELLERS TOLD: DON'T GO WITHOUT INSURANCE


Byline: Larisa Brown

TOURISTS are being warned cash-strapped Greek hospitals may be unable to treat Britons who fall ill while abroad.

Holidaymakers have been urged not to rely on their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is supposed to give all Europeans access to state medical care across the EU.

This is because Greece's poor economy has left local hospitals running on a shoestring and unable to treat some foreigners.

Instead, poorly travellers are being shunted into private care where they run up bills totalling tens of thousands of pounds. This will leave the estimated 230,000 who will travel to Greece without insurance this summer at risk of having to find the cash to pay for care.

In recent days, rundown state hospitals in Greece have reportedly been cutting off vital drugs, limiting non-urgent operations and rationing even basic medical materials for use by exhausted doctors.

While Greece will still accept the EHIC, hospitals are scaling back treatments to their own citizens and this means anyone with the card will get cover only for what is being offered locally.

This could leave British tourists horribly exposed. And even those with travel cover may find themselves caught out if their insurer tries to wriggle out of paying for expensive private medical care.

In this situation travellers would normally be able to fall back on the care offered under the EHIC -- only to find that because of cuts to Greek healthcare they may have to pay for many treatments themselves.

In other countries in the EU, such as France and Spain, travellers can usually rely on a good level of care from local hospitals by using their EHIC.

Grandmother Penelope Southern believes she is a victim of these cuts after being left with a [pounds sterling]17,000 bill for private healthcare when she fell critically ill on the Greek island of Crete last month. She thought her travel insurer would cover her in case of any emergency, but also had the EHIC as extra cover.

Mrs Southern, 57, from Hampshire, travelled with her former husband Christopher, 59, daughter Kerry, 32, Kerry's partner William Reason, 37, and their two grandchildren, Callum, two, and nine-month-old Paige.

The family, who live on a farm, saved up more than [pounds sterling]4,500 for a two-week stay in a five-star family resort.

But a week into the holiday, Mrs Southern was rushed to hospital in immense pain.

She was diagnosed with a strangulated bowel and told that unless she had an operation, she may die within 48 hours.

Having suffered cancer and a number of other medical problems, Mrs Southern had taken out travel insurance, but realised any illness related to her cancer would not be covered. But she believed she would be safe to go on holiday as she felt well and had beaten the disease three years earlier.

However, when her family rang her insurer Virgin, it refused to cover the cost of a private operation, saying her illness was as a result of a previous medical condition. Mrs Southern refutes this. She has a doctor's note confirming it was not linked to cancer.

When Virgin refused to back down, it left the Southerns having to find thousands of pounds for the operation.

Helpless, Mrs Southern asked if she could be transferred to a local hospital for treatment, as she had a European Health Insurance Card.

This card, previously known as the E111, automatically entitles travellers to the same free or reduced treatment a local person would receive in any EU country. But Mrs Southern was told her card was practically useless, and no hospital on the island could perform the operation because of a lack of resources. The family to borrow [pounds sterling]17,320 from a friend to pay for the life-saving procedure.

Mrs Southern, who works for the family furniture business, says: 'I was told if I was admitted into a state hospital, they wouldn't be able to perform the operation because they didn't have a specialist available. …

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