Tourists' health cover 'confusion'

People on the beach in Peru
Image caption Many thousands of people will head to the beach during the holiday season

British holidaymakers are confused about the medical cover they can expect when they travel abroad, an Association of British Insurers survey suggests.

Some 54% of the 2,500 questioned did not know they needed a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, to access state healthcare when abroad.

The card, which was introduced in 2006, allows people access to care in EU or European Free Trade Area nations.

EHIC cards can be obtained from some travel agents or from the NHS website.

'No substitute'

Some 44% of those asked knew that the cards were valid for only five years.

And, of those asked, 31% were heading abroad without either an EHIC or any kind of travel insurance.

"It is important to have an EHIC because if you do find yourself in an accident while abroad, it allows you to get access to state healthcare anywhere in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the travel association Abta.

Meanwhile, the ABI was concerned that in tight economic times, some families were cutting back on expenses by only using an EHIC and not taking out separate travel insurance as well.

"It is absolutely not a substitute for travel insurance," said Linsey White of the ABI.

"If you have a problem abroad and you need to be flown back to the UK in an emergency, the cost of an air ambulance can be up to £15,000 and that is not covered by an EHIC."

Mr Tipton, of Abta, said: "An EHIC will get you basic state care. In some countries, you will get treatment, but other things - such as food, drink or even changing your bed linen - are not regarded as the responsibility of the nurses. They are things for your family to take care of."

He has heard anecdotal reports of people travelling abroad with an EHIC, who did not take out insurance, who have been caught out.

"Currently we have an example of a young couple who have flown out to Spain. She was quite heavily pregnant but able to travel. She gave birth prematurely while on holiday," he said.

"She is getting great healthcare because of her EHIC in Spain, but can't fly home, because they do not have medical insurance to cover the cost of taking her and her baby by air ambulance back to Britain."

Stephen Howard, secretary of the Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries, said that people should buy their travel insurance when they put down a deposit for their holiday. This would then cover them for any cancellation costs.

He also urged holidaymakers to shop around for their policy, but care was needed because price was not always directly linked to the quality of the cover.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites