The health care experiences of British pensioners migrating to Spain: a qualitative study

Health Policy. 2012 Apr;105(1):46-54. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2012.02.002. Epub 2012 Feb 29.


Background: Notwithstanding the importance of cross-border healthcare mobility for Member States very little research has been carried out to understand the experiences of those that move. This paper focuses on a type of patient mobility that has had a significant growth in the past decades. These are pensioners who have moved from Northern European countries to countries in the South.

Objective: To explore the health care experiences of British pensioners who have migrated to Spain.

Design: Qualitative study using in-depth interviews complemented with natural group discussions.

Participants: Fifty-eight British retirees living in Spain and four that had returned to the UK from Spain.

Setting: Spanish Autonomous Communities of Valencia and Baleares and the UK.

Results: British pensioners reported high satisfaction with their experiences of Spanish health care, in contrast to their more negative experiences of other public services in Spain. The perceived high quality (assessed in terms of thoroughness of care and the cleanliness of facilities) and humanity of care provided were the pivotal features of health care encounters, at all levels of the health care system. Exceptions to the overall positive assessments were transport to health care facilities, personal care in hospitals, long term care, and the management of pain relief, which were compared unfavourably with the UK NHS.

Conclusion: In contrast to the existing literature, which suggests widespread problems faced by migrant British pensioners in accessing health care, we identified high levels of satisfaction with services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Consumer Behavior* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants* / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Retirement
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom / ethnology