Medical tourism brings thousands of visitors to new countries every year, with cosmetic surgery and dentistry often being the most popular reasons to travel for your health. However, whilst many actively seek out healthcare in advance, what do you do when you’re already living in another country and are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness?Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Portugal. According to the Portuguese League Against Cancer (LPCC), the country currently has 500,000 cancer survivors, and almost 100,000 people currently undergoing treatment. This is why it’s important to know what your options are when it comes to being treated for cancer in the country.
The Portuguese healthcare is separated into three systems:
– Private health insurance.
– Health sub-systems which cover health insurance for certain professions.
– The national health service, known as Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS).
Each of these systems coexist, but the coverage to which you will have access depends on your residency status in the country.
When using the SNS health service, you should be treated in the same way a Portuguese citizen would. The SNS health service is designed to cover any emergency treatment, together with your primary healthcare needs. This includes GP visits, community healthcare, maternity and family services, and in certain instances, dental care. It also covers the cost of treatment for pre-existing medical conditions.
This is all thanks to a reciprocal agreement in place amongst countries within the European Economic Area. This agreement doesn’t always cover the exact same things that the national health service in your home country would, but if your treatment is not free, you may just need to make a patient contribution towards the cost of your care. In order to obtain treatment under this agreement, you will need to ensure you’re visiting a public hospital and that you present your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Bear in mind that while treatment is covered, if you have been diagnosed with cancer in the UK and you’re going to Portugal for treatment, you’ll need to obtain prior authorisation from the NHS to do so.
Tip: If you don’t already have an EHIC card, you can apply for your free one here.
Unless you have a subsystem that covers health insurance for your profession in Portugal, you’ll need to ensure that you either have private health insurance in place, or that you have the funds to be able to pay for treatment out of your own pocket.
This is because the national healthcare system is primarily residence-based, so you’ll only be eligible to be treated under it once you are a resident of Portugal. In order to obtain your SNS healthcare card (cartao do utente), you’ll need to visit a Portuguese health centre and provide either your social security or your citizenship card as proof of residence.
The cost of private treatment will depend on your cancer diagnosis and the recommended treatment, which is likely to be chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. Private hospital fees will be more expensive than public services, but the waiting lists are usually shorter, and if you have a comprehensive health insurance plan, many elements of your treatment should be covered.
In 2016, the Portuguese healthcare system was ranked 14th in the Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI), which shows significant growth, as in 2012, the country came in 25th. When it comes to treating cancer, Portugal is committed to progression, and the number of those who are either cured or are surviving with a high quality of life is increasing every year.
There are around 200 hospitals in Portugal, but not all of them have the same equipment or facilities, and so the right hospital will depend on your recommended treatment. If you’re unsure which hospital is most equipped to handle your specific requirements, your GP will be able to refer you to the most suitable hospital in the area. Alternatively, you can search for hospitals here.
If you’re heading to Portugal after you have been diagnosed with cancer and need to bring medication on your trip, it’s important that you take the time to store it in a container which has been clearly labelled.
You’ll also need a letter from your GP which states what the medications are and why you need them. If possible, try to get a copy of this note translated into Portuguese as it will be helpful, not only whilst travelling, but when you are speaking to your healthcare professionals out there.
Prior to leaving for Portugal, you’ll need to check if any of the medicines you’re taking fall into the controlled drugs category. If so, you’ll need to be able to prove that it is prescribed for you and that, if you need to carry a large dose, you have a licence. The application process for a licence can take a minimum of 10 days, so it’s important to apply at least two weeks before your departure date.
Palliative care was developed by healthcare professionals who were dedicated to helping incurable patients. The goal wasn’t to try to cure these patients, but rather to help manage their symptoms, together with supporting their physical and emotional well-being.
However, palliative care isn’t widely available in Portugal. The Associação Portuguesa de Cuidados Paliativos (APCP) states that there are 118 palliative care beds in Portugal and 19 care teams. Whilst some are dotted across the country, the majority are located in Lisbon, or in the north of the country.
There are hospitals which specialise in palliative care, such as the Champalimaud Clinical Centre (CCC). The CCC has 11 oncology nurses, 52 doctors and 65 additional health professionals and offers three types of palliative care:
– Home-Based Hospitalisation
The type of care required depends on the severity of symptoms. However, this particular clinic is designed to help with psychological and physical needs, and will ensure that cancer sufferers and their families have the support they need during such a difficult time.
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