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HEALTH

12 very good reasons to be happy you live in Spain

Despite the ongoing pandemic, there are many reasons to be happy if you live in Spain.

12 very good reasons to be happy you live in Spain
Smile: you're in Spain! Photo: Andrei /Flickr

The diet


Photo: David Dennis/Flickr 

Research has shown that specific nutrients – such as Omega 3, found in oily fish – can contribute to making you happier. Lucky then, that the Mediterranean diet is full of just that food, as well as healthy fruit and vegetables and lashings of heart-healthy olive oil.

The weather


Calo des Moro bay in Mallorca. Photo: Tommie Hansen/Flickr 

We’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – the condition that makes people feel more depressed during the winter months that are full of rainy days and early, dark nights. But luckily, in much of Spain, the sun keeps shining throughout the winter months – even in the aftermath of Storm Filomena which brought record snowfall across much of Spain –  meaning you will get your daily dose of vitamin D.

The mentality


Photo: Anne Marthe Widvey/Flickr 

Some of the best self-help gurus say that one of the keys to happiness is not prizing fame, money and power, and being grateful for what you have. Spaniards have this pretty much sussed – they appreciate the small things and are great at living in the moment, enjoying simple pleasures like a morning coffee or a long lunch with friends.

Family


Photo: Fiona Govan. 

Devoting time to family is one of the keys to happiness according to many psychologists, and Spaniards do this without even thinking. Spain is a sociable society, one in which grandparents are rarely carted off to an old people’s home, but become the cherished head of the family, often living and socializing with their younger relatives – although Covid has put a stop to this sort of intergenerational mingling for the time being.

The same goes for family members at the other end of the family tree – Spaniards love children, who are welcome in every restaurant and bar and always made a fuss of – a new mother in Spain can’t walk two minutes down the street without being stopped by interested strangers who want to coo over her new tot. 

The food


Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

According to best restaurant lists, Spain consistently hits above its weight and currently counts three of its establishments in the world’s top ten according to the acclaimed World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2020 list.  Whatever their budget, Spaniards adore food and the ritual that surrounds it.  You don’t have to fork out a fortune to eat like a king in Spain, where fresh produce is bountiful and the most amazing food invention (tapas!) means you can try multiple morsels in one evening. And if you love ham, there is no greater place on earth. 

Best place for mums


Photo: antonio echevers/Flickr 

A recent survey revealed that Spain is one of the best places in the world to be a mum; it is so good in fact that children never want to leave home – well, until at least the age of 30.

Highest live expectancy

Photo: Tommy Hemmert Olesen/Flickr 

Whether down to the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, fish and fresh vegetables, the excellent healthcare or the sociable society, Spaniards have the highest life expectancy in Europe. Live here for a while and hopefully you’ll pick up some of their healthy habits. 

Culture


The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” So said Picasso, and Spaniards couldn’t agree more. Spain is home to one of the richest art heritages in the world, as well as some of the most impressive architecture: from Gaudi’s many masterpieces in Barcelona the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Read More: Top Ten amazing architectural wonders of Spain

Exercise


Photo: Francisco Manuel Esteban/Flickr 

Exercise is one of the keys to staying happy and Spain is a great place to get back to nature and enjoy the outdoors. The weather is great, so Spain is the perfect place for jogging, cycling or just taking a stroll. And with such a huge coastline, there is plenty in the way of watersports to enjoy. And for the risk-takers out there, it is also home to some incredible extreme sports.

READ MORE: Twelve adrenaline fuelled adventures for thrill seekers in Spain 

Get outside


Photo: David Ramos/Flickr 

It is scientifically proven that being outdoors makes people happier. Spaniards are not generally ones to hibernate through the winter, the good weather means that even in the colder months, most Spaniards prefer to be outside socializing than cooped up indoors. 

Chocolate and churros

As any chocoholic will gleefully tell you, chocolate always improves your mood. Maybe that’s because it stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure or because it contains serotonin, a natural antidepressant that can elevate mood.

Forget buying a bar of the stuff though because you are in Spain, and here the very best way to get a chocolate fix is with a mug full of thick, rich, steaming hot chocolate in which to dunk freshly fried crispy and sugar dusted churros.

Whether you buy it from a kiosk and enjoy it sitting on a bench in a plaza or order it in a traditional tiled churreria, we absolutely guarantee it will put a smile on your face.    

Party


Participants in Seville’s Fería de Abril. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Spain has some of the biggest, wildest and wackiest festivals in the world from city-wide celebrations to the annual fiesta in each and every little town around the country. From gay pride to Seville’s Fería de Abril and the huge Holy Week celebrations – whatever you are into, there will be a Spanish festival for you.

And although with coronavirus, we are unlikely to see the return to normal festival life until at summer at the very least, forward planning and creating a bucket list for when we can travel again is a really good way to cheer yourself up, be optimistic and look to the future! 

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

Sweden theoretically has a "healthcare guarantee" limiting your wait to see a GP to three days, and to see a consultant to three months. The reality is somewhat different. Here's what you can do if you face a long wait.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

What is Sweden’s ‘healthcare guarantee’? 

Sweden’s “National Guaranteed Access to Healthcare” or vårdgaranti, is a right to care, protected by law, that has applied in Sweden since 2005. You can see the latest version of the relevant laws here and here. Here is a summary of the guarantee on the website of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR).

Under the system, all patients are guaranteed:

  • contact with a primary care centre by phone, in-person, or by video-link on the day they seek care 
  • an appointment with a doctor, nurse, physio, or psychotherapist within three days of seeking help 
  • an appointment with a specialist doctor or consultant within 90 days of seeking help 
  • treatment or operation within 90 days, if the specialist considers this necessary 

Does the guarantee mean I have a right to treatment? 

No. If the doctor at the primary care centre, after examining you and questioning you, decides that there is no reason to refer you to a specialist doctor, they do not need to do so. 

Similarly, if the specialist doctor, after examining you, decides that no treatment is necessary, then your case is considered completed.  

Can the waiting times to see a specialist or to get treatment be longer than 90 days? 

Absolutely. In fact, they very often are. 

According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), in February, 32 percent of patients had been waiting 90 days or more to see a specialist, and 43 percent of those who had seen a specialist had been waiting for treatment for more than 90 days.  

The situation in primary care was a little better, with 80 percent of those seeking care in contact with their primary care centre on the same day, and 83 percent having their case assessed by a doctor or nurse within three days. 

In addition, if you agree with your specialist doctor that you are willing to wait longer for an operation, then that wait doesn’t get counted in the statistics. 

So what can I do if I’ve been waiting longer than the guaranteed time? 

In reality, it’s actually less a guarantee than a target.

In primary care, there is no way for individual patients to complain that they have had to wait too long to see a doctor or nurse, or to cut their waiting times by citing the guarantee. 

“There’s no system for enforcing that guarantee,” says Emma Spak, the primary care doctor who doubles as section chief for SKR’s healthcare division. 

It would make no sense to set up a complaints line for those who have had to wait too long for phone contact with their primary care centre, she points out, when they could instead talk to patients seeking a primary care appointment in the first place. 

“It’s more of an incentive system for the regions,” she explains.

Every primary care unit and every region reports their waiting times to the national waiting time register, and then as part of the access agreement between SKR and the government, the regional health authorities receive a bonus if they meet their waiting times goal, or if they improve their waiting times. “That’s one way of sort of enforcing this guarantee,” she says. 

When it comes to specialist treatment, though, patients do have the right to demand to be examined or treated by an alternative specialist or hospital if they’ve had to wait longer than 90 days.

If your primary care centre issues you a referral to a specialist, and the specialist cannot then offer you an appointment within 90 days, the specialist, at the same time as offering you a later appointment, will often put you in contact with a unit at the regional health authority who will offer to find you an alternative specialist, either within the region or elsewhere in Sweden. 

The regional health authority will then have to reimburse any extra travel or hotel costs incurred by the patient.  

Similarly, if after examining you, a specialist cannot offer you treatment within 90 days, they will normally put you in contact with the same unit. 

Some regions have a phone line for people who have been waiting too long, or else you can contact your specialist or primary care centre and ask for information on seeking an alternative specialist. 

What happens if I don’t want to travel to see a specialist or get treatment? 

If your regional health authority offers you an alternative specialist, either within your region or in another region, so that you can get treated within the 90 day period, and you are unwilling to travel, then you lose your rights under the guarantee. . 

“If you’re in Gothenburg, and they say you have to go to Stockholm to get your treatment, and you say, ‘no, I want to go here, then then you’ve sort of forfeited your right, and you have to take what’s on offer,” Spak says. 

What happens if I agree with my specialist to wait longer? 

If your specialist says that they can treat you in four months, but also offers you treatment elsewhere within the guaranteed 90 days, and you choose to be treated by your specialist, then that counts as a patient choice, which will not then be counted in the statistics. 

“The specialist might say, ‘I don’t think you will get any worse for waiting two months extra, and if you wait five months, then I can make sure that you get your surgery done here, and we can make sure that you get all the aftercare and everything here as well,” Spak says. 

But these patient decisions are also counted in the statistics, and if a region sees a sharp rise in patients choosing to wait, SKR will tend to investigate. 

“If some region all of a sudden has a lot of patients choosing a longer waiting time, then we will call them and ask what’s going on here, because patients don’t tend to want to wait extra,” Spak says.  

Can I get financial compensation if I’ve been waiting too long? 

No. 

What other ways are there of speeding up the wait for treatment? 

Don’t underplay your symptoms

When drawing up their timetable for treatment and assessment, specialists will tend to give different patients different wait times depending on the urgency of their case.

For this reason, it’s important not to underplay your symptoms when visiting a primary care doctor, as they will tend to include a few lines on the urgency of your case when they write their referral. 

Stress your flexibility 

If you are unemployed, a student, retired, or have a very flexible job, it is worth telling your primary care doctor about this, because they may write in your referral that you are able to make appointments at very short notice. The specialist may then put you on their list of people to ring if one of their patients cancels. 

“Sometimes I write in my referrals that this patient could easily come at short notice, so please put the patient on the list for people you can call if there’s a time slot available,” Spak says. 

If you haven’t told your primary care doctor this, it’s not too late. You can ring the specialist yourself and tell their receptionist that you are very flexible, and ask to be put on the back-up list. This is particularly useful if you’re waiting for a scan, but you could also potentially work even if you’re waiting for heart surgery or a hip replacement. 

“If they’ve accepted you as a patient, and they’ve made sure that you fulfil the criteria for having that scan or whatever, then you can call them and say, ‘I have a really flexible job, I can come anytime if you have a gap,'” Spak says.

“A lot of people do that, because they can have [back-up] waiting lists. If you tell them ‘I work around the corner and I only need 15 minutes to be there’, then they might call you if someone doesn’t show up.” 

Ring up your specialist 

The queue system tends to be quite ad hoc, with no strict rules over who should be treated first, so it is often possible to reduce your wait by ringing up your specialist a few times a month, just to bring your case to their attention. Sometimes the receptionist will remember a slot that has just come free and bring forward your treatment while you are still on the telephone. 

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