When packing for a holiday, most of us are more concerned about sun cream and flip flops.
But people who travel without insurance, or who don’t know the small print on their insurance, could face a holiday hell if they become ill or injured while abroad.
Many people assume that all travel insurance will cover the cost of medical flights back to the UK, but in fact many policies do not - meaning people can face a lengthy stay in a foreign hospital.
When Stephen Moss, of Leyland, paid for a policy with Puffin Insurance, which included medical cover, he assumed the firm would quickly pay for a flight home case of a medical emergency.
But a week after he injured his lower back, he is still in Rhodes Hospital, where Greek doctors carried out an operation on Thursday.
The 60-year-old from Leyland doesn’t know how long he has to stay following his operation and he fears he will miss the birth of his second grandchild, as his daughter, Kimberly, is seven months pregnant.
Stephen flew out to Lindos in Rhodes with his wife Deborah on Saturday June 10 to attend a Rockers Reunited music event.
But in the early hours of Wednesday June 21, he fell backwards down 10 steps at Lindos Gardens apartment block. He was taken to Rhodes Hospital, where doctors revealed he had broken his back.
Doctors asked whether he wanted to have an operation there or in the UK and he requested medical treatment back home.
As Deborah contacted her travel insurance company Puffin Insurance, she faced a four-day wait only to be told by its emergency assistance service that because Stephen had an EHIC, formerly known as E111, he had to remain in Greece, despite the policy covering medical treatment. The company informed her they would be able to fly him back home, but could not indicate when.
She now warns holidaymakers to check the small print of their policies and to know what they should expect if anything was to go wrong.
She said: “This has been an eye opener. When I took out insurance, I assumed we would be covered if anything bad happened and we would be able to get home straight away.
“But I would warn people to check the small print and check they would be covered for private medical care.
“The hospital is not very clean. He has spent a week led in his own urine and they have not given him any clothes. He is in so much pain and he is given hardly anything to eat or drink. He is just led there staring at the ceiling. If Stephen had private medical care, he would have been treated so much better in hospital.
“I have struggled to get answers from the insurance company. It took four days for the Puffin Insurance doctor to tell me he should be treated like a Greek person and have his operation there. I don’t know how long he will have to stay in hospital.
“When I asked will Puffin Insurance get us home, the advisor said yes, but we have no idea when and whether they can pay for me.
“I have been lucky to stay in the hotel until Wednesday, and guests have been giving me Euros, which has been really kind.
“I just want to get him to England, as the hospital is not as good as the one back home. Stephen suffers from blood clots and I am concerned this will develop into sepsis.”
Back in Leyland, Stephen’s family and friends have been trying to make alternative arrangements.
Kimberly, 31, has set up a fund-raising page after finding IAS Medical - the European air ambulance company specialising in international air ambulance rescue with the help of her friend Paula Barton.
Kimberly has also been in touch with South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy to assist.
She said: “It has been an absolute nightmare. We are fuming,
“Mum has already had to pay £200 for a back brace and she has to pay 60 Euros a day for a private nurse, because the system is different there.
“The Greek doctor is now saying they may have to transfer him to Athens, which would take 14 hours by a ship. But he would still need to be in an ambulance, so I don’t see why he can’t just fly home, which would take half the time.
“I am seven months pregnant and I am really stressed out. I just want my parents home. I want them here when I have my baby.
“My dad always had a sense of humour and was always smiling, but he is not like that now. His pain is getting worse and he is frustrated. He is not moving and I am worried about his blood clots.
“We have set up a fund-raising page to help us out. We originally set the original target as £3,000, but we need a lot more. This will also affect his wirk as he is a joiner and won’t be able to work for a while.”
The father-of two’s hospital ordeal was just one of the setbacks the couple experienced during their holiday, as their outward flight was delayed.
Kimberly added: “The holiday has been a nightmare from day one. My mum and dad were due to fly out in the early hours of June 10 but the engine failed as they set off so the plane had to make an emergency landing. They ended up flying the night after. They were put in the wrong hotel.
“They were supposed to have a relaxing holiday, to enjoy the Rockers Reunion, but it has turned into a nightmare. Luckily dad managed to watch the concert before he fell.”
The couple paid £116 for travel insurance from Puffin, which states it covers: “Customary and reasonable emergency medical expenses; necessary travel and accommodation or repatriation costs in the event of your illness, injury or death during your trip.
“Cover is only provided if: You are not claiming for any private medical treatment; you have called our emergency assistance service to authorise bills over
£500; you are claiming for emergency essential treatment received in a state facility and unrelated to any existing medical condition (unless you have declared it and paid the required premium).”
A spokesman for Emergency Assistance Facilities (EAF) said: “This is a very distressing period for the Moss family. We are the emergency assistance company working on behalf of Mr Moss’s travel insurer. Our chief medical officer has been in daily contact with the patient’s wife and the treating doctor, monitoring his on-going treatment. We understand that this week Mr Moss will undergo surgery and after this treatment, we will know more about the timescales for his repatriation to the UK. However this will be dependent on his recovery time, and any air ambulance or transport from Greece will only be available once he is fit to fly. We are doing everything we can to help speed up this process.”
To make a donation visit http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/paula-barton?utm_term=B6jW8ejzb.
The Money Advice Service says a minimum level of travel insurance should include:
£1 million for medical expenses in Europe or £2m or more for the USA
£2 million or more for personal liability
Automatic cover for entire cost of getting you back home in a medical emergency
£2,000 or more for cancellation/ travel abandonment
£1,500 or more for baggage cover and a realistic limit for valuables and single articles
£500 or more for missed departure
£200 or more for delays like industrial action
Top tips for buying travel insurance
You should avoid buying travel insurance from your tour operator, airline or travel agent, without shopping around and comparing prices online first.
Also don’t automatically go for the cheapest policy as these often have higher excesses and rigid exclusions. Make sure you get a policy that is tailored to your needs.
When looking for travel insurance you shouldn’t leave it until the last minute and rushing your decision. Leaving it too late could mean you don’t get cover for cancellation.
If you have a medical condition, consider using a specialist broker to find travel insurance that will provide the right level of cover.
Make sure you have an up to date European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to avoid paying excess fees for medical treatment.
While an EHIC provides a useful safety net, it is vital to be aware that it’s no substitute for travel insurance.
The EHIC won’t cover you for any health care that would not normally be provided by the state you are visiting. Nor will it cover rescue and repatriation; if you had a skiing accident, for example, the EHIC would not cover the cost of air-lifting you from the side of a mountain or getting you back to the UK if you were badly injured and unable to board a commercial flight.
The EHIC won’t provide you with any protection if you are the victim of crime while on holiday, if you lose important items that have to be replaced or if you have to cut your trip short due to an emergency at home.