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Health Tourists Put Spanish Service Under Strain

oyetes health centre at the tourist trap of Benidorm explains to would-be customers: "If you don't speak Spanish come with someone who does. You'll get better service."

At Benidorm-Villajoyosa hospital "health tourism" is a taboo subject.

At the entrance stands Beth Wilson, a 65-year-old English woman, who vouches for the service as being "the quickest in Spain."

Having come over for a varicose veins operation "she obtained an appointment within a few months whereas in England we'd have waited for years," says husband Keith.

But faced with increasing numbers of foreign patients in areas favoured by tourists such as Andalusia in the south and the Balearic Islands, regional authorities and doctors alike are speaking out over what they say are the lack of funds and human resources to treat so many within the national health scheme.

In 2006, "125,000 foreign tourists were treated by the Valencia regional health system," says Cervera, adding that their treatment cost the regional authority 88 million euros (110 million dollars).

He adds that EU cohesion funds destined to aid tourism in the region -- healthcare is administered on a regional basis in decentralised Spain -- "only came to four million euros."

Doctor Llevata noted that "we are desperately short of personnel and funds are insufficient" for what he says are "unforeseen" pressures on local healthcare.

Dorothy Ramirez de la Pecina -- a Finnish translator who speaks nine languages -- has been a key member of staff at the hospital in Benidorm for several years.

"Some old people arrive very ill from their own country," she said.

"They all thank me" for liaising with doctors and for helping to avoid "diagnosis errors."


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