PUMA 22 Mass Demonstration over New health care Law



A mass demonstration protesting over the withdrawal of free health care has been hailed a success by organisers. Hundreds of people filled the streets of Alicante city centre as they marched to the British Consulate to present a letter to the new Ambassador to Spain Giles Paxman.
Many were dressed as medical staff, while others carried coffins to symbolise their concerns for people who they claim are being discriminated against by being denied free health care. Group members are also angry about British Government money being spent to provide free health care in developing countries while citizens in Spain are denied this right.

The PUMA22 campaign group, who say their protest will continue, organised the march to draw attention to the plight of thousands of ex-pats who now have no health care and are facing €50 fees for a doctor’s appointment and thousands of euros for operations.
To continue receiving health care people are being asked to pay €270 a quarter per person, with the fees rising to €330 a quarter after retirement. Children also have to pay, so for a family of four the cost would be more than 1,000 euros a quarter. The Valencian Regional Health Authority has invited people not entitled to free health care, mainly early-retirees, to join the scheme, which is run by a private company.
For many of the ex-pat population living on small pensions - diminished by the falling pound - the fees are unaffordable. PUMA22 is asking the health authority to reconsider and for the British Government to step in to help its citizens, many of whom are still paying taxes in the UK and have paid into the British national health system for decades.
The group also presented a letter to Francisco Camps Ortiz, President of the Generalitat Valenciana, making a formal complaint regarding the law for free health which has now been withdrawn.
In the letter to Mr Paxman PUMA22 said people had contributed to the Valencian area to the tune of millions of euros after being enticed to the region with the promise of free health care.
‘Consequently, thousands came in the - subsequently mistaken - belief that their healthcare was taken care of, and that they therefore had no need to budget for private medical insurance,’ the letter says. ‘For many already suffering from pre-existing medical conditions private health care was, and is not, an available option. Private insurers will not cover such situations, or if they did, the resulting premiums would be unaffordable.’
The letter states that in June last year the Valencian Authorities, without warning, declared that free health care for these citizens was to be withdrawn immediately.
‘We are aware that the British Embassy entered into discussions with the regional authority regarding this matter. The authorities then postponed their decision, pending the putting into place of an alternative scheme whereby those so badly affected would be able to continue to receive local healthcare, but on payment,’ the letter says.
‘This group are also denied access to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Even if we were to sign up to this private health insurance, as we would still be classed as “non contributors” to the Spanish Social Security system, the authorities state that we would be disqualified from obtaining an EHIC from them.  Naturally, as legal residents in Spain, we are also denied this card in the UK as we are non-residents there.  So much for European integration.  This matter alone can only be described as discriminatory.’
The letter says that the decision was ‘wholly wrong, immoral and a breach of our human rights as British, European, and legal residents in this region of Spain, and it may well be illegal.
‘What is happening here is not only wrong, it is dangerous. There are many people here who cannot afford to join this new scheme, and who are in constant need of medical treatment, care and drugs. If they cannot join, and are judged not to be eligible under the “sin recursos” arrangements, then their treatment will be stopped and they will have no medical assistance whatsoever.’
Campaigners are calling on the British Government to take up the matter on behalf of the affected ex-pat population.
‘You and the UK Government, should also be aware that every one of us feels deeply let down by our own Government,’ the letter continues. ‘The majority of us have paid our full National Insurance Contributions in the UK, some of us continue to pay taxes in the UK, and yet our Government is not prepared to assist us further in this unique circumstance.  We are being treated as second-class citizens.
The letter says there is ‘anger and disgust felt by the ex-pat population towards the UK Government,’ by the publication of Government announcements to provide free health care in parts of the developing world.
These include the provision of free health care within a year for all pregnant and lactating women and children under five in Sierra Leone, announced last month (November) under a new emergency health programme that will receive a £34 million boost from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

In October International Development Minister Gareth Thomas said there would be a new £12m funding package to help make Liberia’s commitment to provide free health care a reality.

The letter also refers to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s report last month (November) to the Commonwealth Conference, calling for ‘all developing countries to remove fees for health care.’
‘It is not to much to ask for our Prime Minister to put his own house in order, before making such inflammatory remarks,’ says the letter.
‘What we are asking for from the UK authorities is, comparatively, a drop in the ocean.  We are asking that the Government recognise that our current problem is unique and by its very nature will shrink in terms of cost as those of this British ex-pat population reach official retirement age.  We are asking that while this situation continues to jeopardize the health of its nationals the UK Government extends the provisions made under Form E106, or Form E121, which would be at little cost in Government expenditure terms, and guarantee our free healthcare, which we, and hopefully they, regard as a basic human right.’

After the demonstration founder member Bill Bridges said the battle would continue. ‘It went very well today and we made our point, but the fight goes on,’ he said.
A spokesman for the British Embassy said: ‘The British Embassy and Consular system in Spain is not responsible for the provision of healthcare in Valencia. We have been in discussion with the Valencia Health Authorities, which has led to them offering a new system covering people with chronic conditions, and many residents are grateful for our efforts to help resolve this. But any further questions that arise should be addressed to the Valencia Health Authorities directly.’

 
Hi Everyone,

Please see below a copy of the reply received today from our Ambassador in Madrid, following our demonstration last week in Alicante.

They are looking and listening because we acted together.  You can be sure that this is also being discussed in Valencia.

They all now know that we will not let this go - it is too important.  We must, and will,  keep the momentum going.

WELL DONE YOU.



Kind regards


Bill


Dear members of PUMA 22,


Thank you for your letter dated 10 December 2009 about the health care arrangements in the Valenica region.

I was, of course already aware of this issue and the problems that it has been causing for British residents in the region. I know that colleagues here and in the consulate in Alicante have had various contacts with the Valencian authorities. However your letter raises some complex and detailed points and I want to satisfy myself that we are doing all we reasonably can to help. I cannot promise anything but I will look thoroughly into the problem and reply more fully early in the New Year.


Yours sincerely,


Giles


Giles Paxman

HM Ambassador

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