Spain: Antigypsyism in hospitals

Roma in Spain frequently encounter antigypsyism in hospitals, facing racist statements or even different treatment. Anna Carballo spoke with a woman about her experiences.

Roma in Spain regularly experience that they are deprived of their right to quality health care and to equal treatment by health professionals, in particular in hospitals.

In Spain, the right to health protection is recognised in article 43 of the Constitution[1] and is specified in Law 14/1986, the General Health Law, which establishes its public financing, universality and free of charge; its decentralisation to the autonomous regions and its integration into the National Health System. In short, everyone has the right to quality health care under equal conditions.

M.G., a 56-year-old Roma activist tells us that when health professionals in hospitals and security guards see a Roma man or woman, they start giving “dirty looks” as if to say “the Roma are already here”.

It is customary for many Roma to come to visit relatives or friends who are in hospital, either for an emergency or for an operation. Even relatives from other cities would come for a visit, if it is a major or serious operation. The high number of Roma visitors is due to the fact that Roma families are usually large and close family is understood to mean uncles, aunts, uncles and second cousins. M.G. explains that  it is our custom to be with the family and support each other for better or worse”. She adds that “it is very ugly not to go, especially if it is an important operation, even if it is not a family member, but it is a neighbour or a prominent person in the Roma community. You have to be there”. He also stresses that if you don’t go, you feel bad because you know you haven’t done well.

M.G. explains that it all starts with the gaze, an anti-Roma gaze. A look from the power, from their superiority and position of power not only because they are a white person, but also because of the position they hold within the hospital. According to M.G., for the workers, all Roma are uneducated and illiterate and they speak to you with arrogance, using very technical vocabulary so that you cannot understand them.



A protest in Barcelona against Salvini, June 2018.

Photo by FAGIC

M.G. tells us about an incident. She was in the emergency room with her 5 year old granddaughter because she had a high fever and the father, the girl and herself were in the room. The nurse put the thermometer on the child and told the adults that when the thermometer beeped, to take it off and that the doctor would be there shortly.

M.G. tells how it went on: “After five minutes the doctor came by and with an arrogant and overbearing attitude shouted at us, in front of the girl, saying what we were doing and why we had taken the thermometer away”. M.G. and her son-in-law told the doctor that this is what the nurse told them and the doctor continued shouting at them and told them that they didn’t know anything and that it was always the same with the gypsies. M.G. did not shut up and told the doctor that she should be treated with dignity and that if she continued in this vein, she would report her.

It is “the mere presence of Roma bothers them and they immediately send you to the security guard”. Hospital rooms are usually two-bedded, i.e. for two patients, and a maximum of two people per patient can stay as visitors. M.G. explains that she was in the hospital with a cousin and that in the bed next to her, a non-Roma woman, there were four people visiting and that nobody said anything to them. But they were called to her attention because they were two people and there were many people in the room.

M.G. says that she does not keep quiet because she more or less knows her rights and that if she does not, she asks. But most Roma who are treated inhumanely keep quiet because they either don’t know their rights or don’t want the patient to be treated badly. They feel powerless in the face of the hierarchy of power that professionals exercise over them. Roma perceive that if you complain, they accuse you of bad behaviour and intimidate you by saying that they will call the hospital security or the police and that they will throw you out of the hospital.

M.G. does not want to generalise about all health professionals and say that they all have anti-Roma behaviour, but as most of them have a great lack of knowledge of Roma culture and have believed all the stereotypes about Roma, in some way their treatment of Roma is different. She adds that even those professionals who do not have bad intentions have attitudes and explains how a nurse said to her cousin: “we are going to put someone like you as a roommate” and to which the cousin replied “like me? What do you mean, gypsy? And the nurse said: “Yes, gypsy. That way you understand each other better. The other gypsy turned out to be a cousin and, although they thought “better together”, they understood that this attitude on the part of the nurse was also anti-Gypsy.

In hospitals, anti-Gypsyism does not only come from health professionals or security guards, the other non-Roma patients, in most cases, also have an antigypsyistic attitude. Most of them express their discontent when they have to share a room with a Roma person and how they hide all their belongings because they think they are going to be robbed. Or when you are in the waiting room and you sit next to a non-Roma, they change their seat or hold their bag.

M.G. advocates for the right to quality health care on an equal footing with other citizens. She says that health care is public and universal and that Roma also pay their social security, thus contributing to the free health care system. The antigypsyism that Roma suffer in hospitals is not only in the treatment but also in the medical check-up and diagnosis. M.G. stresses that it depends on how lucky you are with the professional on duty, but that the position of power is reflected as soon as they recognise a Roma person as a patient.

Written by:

Anna Carballo-Mesa