The previous right-wing PP-led government stopped healthcare for anyone who was not legally resident, except for emergency treatment, all care for the under-18s and for pregnant or post-partum women, back in 2012.
And hospitals and clinics did not always have the same criteria as to what constituted an emergency.
An overwhelming number of doctors defied the ruling, which they said was ‘cruel’ and ‘leaving people to die or stay ill’, and continued to treat anyone who walked through their surgery doors without asking questions.
One of the most vocal in this sense was the region of Valencia, whose newly-elected regional government, in 2015, announced healthcare would be available free to anyone who needed it – and who were ordered by the State and the courts to follow the rules.
Health experts have said restricting care and expecting those not eligible to pay for it does not actually save money – in fact, it costs more, because most of those left untreated would be unable to fund their own medical attention and would eventually become an emergency, costing more to assist because the problem had been left unmedicated for too long.
Also, with undocumented migrants refused all but emergency or childbirth-related care, the risk of infectious tropical conditions was high.
Although contagious or infectious diseases were exempt from the ban, sufferers would not recognise them as such at first, since symptoms may be similar to those of a bad cold or an upset stomach, meaning when these were left untreated due to not qualifying for free healthcare, they had already been passed on before medics picked them up.
Cabinet spokeswoman Isabel Celaá said talks were under way with all of Spain’s regional governments to negotiate the return of public healthcare to everyone, whether or not they had a valid residence permit or were working, retired, registered on the dole or in receipt of maternity, paternity or sick pay.
“It’s merely a question of political decency,” Sra Celaá said.
“And it’s also a mandate of all international organisations, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Health Organisation, as well as an ongoing request from the national ombudsman.”
It will take around six weeks before the rules change again, and Isabel Celaá said there was ‘no danger’ of any regional health authority refusing care after it became universal and free once again.
“There will be no regional governments who fail to comply,” she stated, hinting at possible repercussions for any which denied treatment to anyone.
Back in 2012, the PP government cancelled 900,000 SIP, or healthcare, cards – of these, 150,000 were held by immigrants with no residence permits, and others by people in varying situations but who were not paying Social Security contributions, such as low-income cash-in-hand workers.
European Union citizens were less affected – those who had never been employed or registered as self-employed in Spain, and were not in receipt of a State retirement pension from any country, were able, in some regions, to pay a monthly fee of around €110 to guarantee them treatment, and in others, were automatically able to sign up to the system as long as their annual gross income did not reach €100,000.
For non-EU citizens in Spain in this situation – which would have included the British if the system were in place post-Brexit – their case was more complicated and, depending upon their region, they had to rely on private health insurance.
Tourists resident in the EU could obtain emergency care through their EHIC cards, defined as any medical issue that could not wait until they returned home, and holidaymakers from elsewhere needed to be covered by travel insurance.
It is likely that holidaymakers will still need to meet these requirements, but that residents – even if they are not registered as such – will be treated.
Although it is hoped the UK will continue to make annual per-head contributions to Spain for its State pensioners’ healthcare after Brexit, the Spanish government’s new stance sends out a fresh message of reassurance to any who feared they may be left without access to a doctor.