With Dr Felicity Nicholson
The standard of health care in France is good. However, the NHS recommends all travellers take out private health insurance to complement the cover given by the European Health Insurance Card. This replaces the old E111 which is no longer valid. Apply online (www.ehic.org) to get one within seven working days. You can apply for yourself, wife/husband/partner and up to four children in one application. The card is only available for British, EU, EEA or Swiss citizens. The main applicant must be resident in the UK and over 16 years of age. There is a £9.95 charge per application.
You can also apply by phone on Ø 0845 606 2030 (up to 10 working days) or by post using an application form available from some post offices (up to 21 working days). The card basically covers any accident or emergency treatment by doctors, dentists, and in public hospitals or private clinics operating within the French sécurité sociale (health service) framework.
France has a dense network of medical practitioners, and there are doctors’ surgeries (cabinets) even in small towns and villages. In theory, you can go to the surgery of any doctor during opening hours.
To find a doctor, ask any local resident, or at a pharmacy. Failing that, local police stations (gendarmeries) can usually provide the phone number of the duty doctor (médecin de garde) and pharmacy (pharmacie de garde).
If you see a doctor, or go to a hospital, you will be given a signed statement of the treatment carried out, and possibly a prescription (ordonnance). These documents must be kept carefully, as you will need them in order to claim reimbursement. Take the prescription to a pharmacy, where you will have to pay for the items needed. Those with an EHIC card will be refunded at about 70% of standard doctors’ and dentists’ fees, and between 35% and 65% of the cost of most prescribed medicines – which may still end up costing less than in the UK.
There is some kind of accident or emergency service in most medium sized towns. Look for signs to the ‘hôpital’ or ‘centre hospitalier’. In bigger towns or cities, look for signs to the ‘CHR’ (centre hospitalier régional) or ‘CHU’ (centre hospitalier universitaire).
If you are too sick to move, ask your hotel/campsite/gîte owners to call a local medic. The cost is slightly higher than a surgery visit, but payment and refunding are the same.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.nathnac.org/ds/map_world.aspx (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.