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Bring your own medicines when visiting Catalonia

Patient advocacy groups charge against cost-cutting measures, such as Valencia restrictions on seeing specialists

As the regions continue to look for solutions to deal with severe budget cuts, the governments of Catalonia and Valencia have begun placing restrictions on people from outside their areas who try to seek healthcare.

Catalan health authorities are asking visitors with chronic diseases to bring their own medicines when they visit, while officials in Valencia have put restrictions on who can see a specialist. However, patient advocacy groups are questioning the legality of such steps.

Under the law, healthcare in Spain is universal, free and should not be denied to anyone. "We've detected cases like this over the past few years but now we are seeing them repeated more often," said Marciano Sánchez Bayle of the Federation of Associations for the Defense of Public Healthcare. "There have been a lot of problems with patients who try to see a doctor but live in a different region."

From July 2010, Catalonia has stopped people with chronic illnesses from other regions, including tourists, from obtaining prescription drugs. Those affected the most are residents from Aragon, who visit the Costa Dorada.

Since Catalonia put the restrictions in place, regional health authorities say there has been a 25-percent drop in the number of prescription drugs that are handed out.

In Valencia, authorities have also taken a hard line when it comes to filling prescriptions.

Since January 2010, patients who want to obtain medicine for their condition must bring along a medical report from their doctor or pediatrician to "demonstrate the need for obtaining" the prescriptions.

At a health center in the costal town of Cullera - one of 30 facilities opened for the summer season - there is a sign posted on the door advising tourists that they will not be given an appointment to see a specialist unless it is an emergency.