Find out everything you need to know about hospitals in Spain with our guide, including treatments, costs, and more.
If you’re moving to Spain, you’ll be pleased to discover that the country has one of the top 20 healthcare systems in the world. The Spanish healthcare system, including hospitals in Spain, is effectively split into two parts: public and private.
The public system, Sistema Nacional de Salud (SNS), is operated on a regional level and allows all Spanish citizens to access free healthcare. The private system includes privately-owned services that are typically only accessible for patients with private health insurance. However, whichever system you use, it’s important to understand how hospitals in Spain function. To help you out, our guide looks at the following:
- Overview of Spanish hospitals
- How to access hospital treatment in Spain
- Emergency treatment in Spain
- Hospital stays in Spain: what to expect
- Hospital costs in Spain
- Getting discharged from hospitals in Spain
- Visiting someone in the hospital in Spain
- Best hospitals in Spain
- List of hospitals in Spain
- Useful resources
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COVID-19 in Spain
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures, and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations.
Overview of hospitals in Spain
Spain has both public and private hospitals.
In the public system, healthcare is overseen by the government of each individual autonomous community. According to the official health ministry, Spain’s public medical and hospital system is rated highly. Indeed, 7 out of 10 Spanish citizens are pleased with the level of care received via the public health system. And with 467 public hospitals in Spain, visitors should be able to find a hospital if and when needed.
When it comes to public hospitals in Spain, there are different categories that provide different levels of care:
- General hospitals in Spain provide essential services such as access to general practitioners, some specialized doctors, and nurses.
- Mid-level hospitals have more specialists as well as access to diagnostic and more complicated treatments.
- High-technology hospitals are able to treat more obscure and serious health issues. These hospitals have advanced equipment and specialized doctors.
Private hospitals in Spain are operated by private healthcare providers and are typically smaller than their public counterparts. They are also often more specialized in the range of services they provide. However, whichever type of hospital you visit, you will receive a high level of care.
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of care is administered in Spanish. Depending on your region and the type of hospital, you may come across English-speaking medical professionals. However, it’s always a good idea to have some basic vocabulary linked to your condition before you arrive at the hospital.
How to access hospital treatment in Spain
How you access hospital care in Spain will largely depend on your circumstances, and whether you are under the public or private systems. Generally speaking, hospitals in Spain are among the best in the world. However, there can be long waits to visit specialists and non-emergency operations within the public system. For example, in 2018, the wait time to see a digestive specialist in the public system was approximately 48 days. This is why many patients opt to pay for health insurance, gaining access to private hospitals in Spain.
As of 2021, almost 24% of the Spanish population pays for private medical insurance. Despite this, 60% of the hospitals in Spain are private. While this might sound a lot, it’s important to note that in most cases, private hospitals are typically smaller and have more specified resources and fewer beds than public hospitals.
Accessing care in the public system
If you’re a Spanish resident, you’ll typically be assigned a healthcare center based on your registered address. This is where you can access public medical treatment through a family doctor, along with other health services and information. If you need a specialist, your family doctor will refer you to one at a public hospital or medical center. In the case of an emergency, you can visit any public hospital for treatment.
Accessing care in the private system
Within the private system, processes vary depending on your chosen insurance provider. Therefore, it’s important to read up on your insurer to understand how the processes work. For example, if you need to see a specialist on your private insurance, you may be able to get an appointment directly, as opposed to going through a referral process. This will, however, depend on your individual coverage.
Health insurance providers in Spain
Private health insurance in Spain is fairly affordable compared to other countries. Expect to spend €16–€200 a month for private health insurance depending on the coverage plan. Private health insurance companies in Spain include:
For more information on everything, you need to know about getting coverage, read our guide to health insurance in Spain.
Emergency treatment in Spain
For medical emergencies in Spain, you should first call 112. Although an operator will answer in Spanish, there should be English speakers available to assist with an emergency. Alternatively, it may be possible to head straight to your nearest Spanish hospital in case of emergency and look for the Emergency Department (Urgencias) entrance.
Spanish law states that anyone with a life-threatening emergency can access treatment at a Spanish hospital, whether public or private. However, typically speaking, public hospitals have more resources and options for serious emergencies. Therefore, in case of emergency, you may prefer to head to your nearest public hospital. However, if you do hold private insurance, it may be best to go to a private hospital in case of an emergency.
For all non-urgent medical queries and procedures, you should first contact your doctor or medical center.
Accessing emergency treatment as a tourist in Spain
Anyone, including tourists, can access emergency medical treatment at a public hospital in Spain if the injury or illness is deemed life-threatening or grave. EU/EEA residents visiting Spain on holiday have access to free healthcare at public medical centers if they show a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This is called the Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea in Spain.
If you’re visiting from a non-EU/EEA country, it’s best to get travel insurance before traveling to Spain for any smaller healthcare issues that could arise. Remember that the hospital will make a call on the severity of your situation and your eligibility for free treatment under the EHIC scheme.
For non-life-threatening situations, you should seek to make a doctor’s appointment through your insurance provider or using your EHIC.
Hospital stays in Spain: what to expect
When it comes to both private and public hospitals in Spain, you can expect to receive standard care in both as many of the same doctors work at both hospitals. This means the care you receive will be largely similar. However, there can be some differences in the amenity levels in the hospitals themselves.
For example, private hospitals typically offer individual rooms for patients. However, in a public hospital in Spain, patients may have to share a room with one other occupant. This depends on the seriousness or contagiousness of the illness. Room sharing can also depend on the occupancy of the hospital at any given time.
Spanish hospital rooms typically include a hospital bed, any necessary medical supplies, and a bathroom. Usually, rooms come with a chair for a visitor. For patients sharing a room, there’s a curtain or separator for privacy. Hospitals also have meal services for patients, with meals delivered to the bedside. Elite private hospitals may include extras, such as additional toiletries or other items.
Hospital costs in Spain
If you’re contemplating treatment in one of the many hospitals in Spain, it’s a good idea to understand what, if any, financial obligations you can expect. This differs between healthcare systems, as laid out below:
Costs at public hospitals in Spain
Treatment at public hospitals in Spain is free for Spanish citizens that show their national health card or EU/EEA visitors that show their EHIC. However, you may have to pay out of pocket for certain things like optional vaccines and certain medications. The public health system usually pays for at least part of any prescription medicine. You may need to pay the other part of that cost depending on your income.
Costs at private hospitals in Spain
When it comes to private hospitals in Spain and insurance, costs will largely depend on your insurance provider. The more affordable plans cover less, and patients may have to pay copays. A more expensive insurance plan likely covers more, and copays are lower or even non-existent. Depending on your situation, you may have to pay upfront and later request reimbursement from insurance at private hospitals in Spain.
Getting discharged from hospitals in Spain
In both private and public hospitals in Spain, the doctor decides when a patient can leave. Discharge can occur any day of the week in the morning or afternoon.
Typically, the doctor gives patients a paper stating their discharge before leaving. If a patient wants to leave earlier, they must sign that they agree to be held responsible for any secondary effects that might happen.
Hospitals in Spain give patients information about outpatient care upon discharge. Should you have any questions about this information, be sure to speak to a member of staff before you leave. Reception staff will usually help with scheduling follow-up appointments.
Visiting someone in the hospital in Spain
Many rules about visiting someone in the hospital in Spain have changed in recent years due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, visiting patients in the hospital was fairly simple and rules were often lax, ensuring you could spend quality time with your loved ones while they received treatment.
However, due to the pandemic, patients can typically only have one person accompany them to the hospital during an emergency. For longer-term stays, patients can sometimes receive visitors during specific hours. Be aware that these rules vary by hospital and, of course, are subject to change as the Covid-19 pandemic evolves.
Best hospitals in Spain
Spain’s best hospitals are mainly in the country’s largest and most populated cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. According to Newsweek, these are the top three hospitals in Spain:
- Hospital Clínic de Barcelona: the public Clínic de Barcelona does onsite Biomedical research and is also a university hospital.
- Hospital Universitario de la Paz, Madrid: La Paz is one of the most reputable public hospitals in Madrid, offering more than 1,000 beds.
- Cliníca Universidad de Navarra: This private hospital has locations in both Navarra and Madrid with approximately 46 different medical specialties.
List of hospitals in Spain
There are hospitals located throughout Spain, meaning you’ll never be too far away from your nearest. Here is a list of some of the hospitals you can expect to find in some of the most popular cities in Spain.
- Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe
- Hospital Universitario Doctor Peset
- Clínic Universitari de València
Here is the full list of hospitals in Spain.
- Ministerio de Sanidad – Government website for all things related to public health.
- Official Spanish Health Legislation and Information
- Health information in the Community of Madrid
- Spanish Society of Public Health