When you need medical help

Accidents on holiday are thankfully rare but they can happen. So if you fall ill or have an accident while you’re away it’s good to know what you should do and who you can turn to for help.

Travel insurance & EHICs

Whether you’re on a package tour or travelling independently it’s essential to have travel insurance which can cover the costs of emergency medical treatment while you’re abroad.  The most comprehensive travel insurance policies will offer at least £1 million (£2 million if you’re visiting the USA) of medical expenses cover and will normally include the cost of an air ambulance to get you home if necessary. For more on travel insurance and what to look for in a good policy see our guide.

If you’re travelling in the European Economic Area (this is all the countries in the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland it’s also important that you and anyone travelling with you (including babies) have their own European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to the same state-provided healthcare as the local people which means it could be at a reduced cost or even free. Your travel insurer may also insist you use your EHIC if you receive treatment in the EEA or Switzerland.

But an EHIC should in no way be seen as a replacement for travel insurance. If you run up expensive medical bills abroad, need to be rescued on a ski slope or repatriated you will have to pay all these costs yourself if you don’t have any travel insurance.

Independent travellers

If you are travelling independently and fall ill you should contact your travel insurer. It should have a 24-hour helpline which can advise you on where to get medical help and can arrange any medical treatment you need.

You may be able to get the number of a local doctor from where you’re staying. But it’s worth checking first with your insurer if they will cover this cost or if they will only pay for a doctor of their choice.

If you or anyone with you has a serious accident, such as a road accident, and you need medical help immediately, contact the emergency services in the country where you are staying.

You can also contact your local British Consul for help. Consular staff can offer practical advice and help with things like finding a local doctor.

If you think your illness or accident was caused by your accommodation provider (or a restaurant in the case of food poisoning) and want to make a personal injury claim you will probably have to make a claim in that country rather than the UK. This can be very complicated so it’s a good idea to get legal advice. To find a solicitor who can help contact the not-for-profit Association of Personal Injury Lawyers on 0115-958 0585 or at www.apil.org.uk.

Package holiday travellers

Your holiday rep should be able to help if you have an accident or fall ill while on holiday.

If you need medical attention make sure you contact your travel insurer immediately – it should have a 24-hour helpline and can give you details of doctors in your area. If you contact a doctor independently or one recommended by your hotel and not your insurance company, you may have to pay for this yourself.

Hotels will often recommend a local doctor but this may be because they have a paid retainer arrangement with them. If you’re thinking of using the doctor it’s always a good idea to ask about their credentials and experience. And be aware that your travel insurer may not cover the cost unless you’ve contacted them in advance and agreed to this.

If you or anyone with you has a serious accident, such as a road accident, and you need medical help immediately, contact the emergency services in the country where you are staying.

Most accidents are just that and are no one’s fault. But if you think an accident was caused by negligence or bad practice, for example if you injured yourself as a result of your accommodation not being properly maintained or on an excursion organised by your travel company, you might be entitled to compensation. You can find out more about what to do in these circumstances from Citizens Advice and the Association of British Travel Agents.

Paying for medical treatment

Make sure you keep all receipts and any paperwork (make copies if necessary) of any treatment you receive and anything you have to pay for.

If you have travel insurance you will probably have to pay for minor claims upfront and then claim these back when you get home. If you are hospitalised your insurer usually deals with your medical bills as they come in.

If you use an EHIC you may have to pay towards or for all the treatment and prescriptions you receive upfront and then claim a refund later. Try and make a claim while you’re still abroad. If you can’t, you can get a claim form from Department of Work and Pensions by calling 0191-218 1999.

Published on 07/06/18

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