When the unexpected happens: what to do in case of medical emergency in Europe

This blog post applies to UK citizens visiting Europe.

Some of the people reading this blog will know that I was hit by a car in Prague in April. Luckily I escaped with just a few (pretty gnarly) bruises, but I still needed to go to hospital to check that everything really was OK. That meant X-rays, a head CT and a sonography. It turns out that I was really unprepared for any kind of medical emergency. I had just popped out for a quick meal in a restaurant and didn’t even have a valid form of ID in my bag. This post offers advice and food for thought to any UK citizen travelling within the EU.

 

As a Brit, I had considered my passport to be a valuable document that I should lock away in my hotel room. It’s the one document I need to get across any national border… why would I carry it around with me? Besides, I’ve been to Europe on countless trips and never needed it when I was out and about. Until now. As for my EHIC card, I wasn’t even sure if I had brought it on this trip. I vaguely remembered throwing it into my suitcase as an afterthought when I was packing. Again, I had never needed it. Until now.

 

You see, if you need to take an ambulance to the hospital and you don’t have those documents, you will be left with the invoice and told: “Your insurance will cover it.” But what does this mean as a Brit? I’m so used to the free NHS service that I had no idea. When I asked whether they meant EHIC or my travel insurance, all I got was a blank look and a shrug. Seeing a bill for CZK 15,000 is pretty scary, especially as it equates to around £430 – an amount I don’t have lying around for that unexpected holiday expense! If you have your passport and EHIC card on you, they will send the bill straight to the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, who issue the card, and you don’t need to do anything.

 

Whenever I travel now, I keep ID on me and my EHIC card is always in my wallet. I highly recommend this, as I a) had to call EHIC the morning after my accident (they don’t have a 24-hour line) and b) had to email the ambulance company and the hospital with my passport and EHIC card details. The hospital never replied to confirm receipt of my documents. The ambulance company didn’t have their email address on the invoice and their website was solely in Czech. I found a list of email addresses on their website, picked the one at the top and hoped for the best. Thankfully they responded to say they would take care of it.

 

Top tip: if you have an accident in the EU and need emergency medical treatment but don’t have your passport or EHIC card on you, do not pay for your medical expenses upfront. I had this discussion with the hospital reception. We went around and around in circles, until they finally let me go on the proviso that I emailed them with my passport details and EHIC number. Which I did. After all, they have my address. They know where I live. They know where to send the bill should I ultimately decide to not provide them with the necessary details. Why would I not want to send them this if it meant I got my healthcare for free?

 

When I finally managed to contact an EHIC representative, she told me that they may not cover the medical expenses if they don’t deem them to be for emergency treatment. This had me frantically scrolling through my emails trying to find the multi-trip annual travel insurance that I had purchased earlier in the year. I knew I had bought it through a price comparison website, but I had no idea when, no idea of the name of the company, no idea of the amount of medical cover, no idea of the excess I may have to pay, no idea if I had detailed all of my medical details properly… you get the picture. That email is now “starred” in my Gmail account for easy access as and when I need it.

 

It’s also handy to know the emergency medical number of the country you’re visiting. Most European countries use 112. If you also need to get in touch with an EHIC representative, call (+44)(0)191 218 1999.

 

I hope this post helps any Brits travelling to Europe. If you have any other medical advice, please post it in the comments!

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