ONE of Britain’s biggest travel insurers has been reprimanded for “exceptionally poor” service, following the death of a policyholder, who was denied a medical evacuation flight home.
A report by a Financial Ombudsman Service investigator has criticised Travel Insurance Facilities (TIF), the company behind several major insurance brands, including Flexicover and Boots, for failing to act “fairly or reasonably in such grave circumstances”.
But the insurer “strongly disagrees with the findings” and is asking the ombudsman to review the opinion.
Martin Blake, 72, had a heart attack in Lanzarote last year and was admitted to the local public hospital, which said he needed a coronary angioplasty.
It was unable to perform the procedure because of inadequate facilities, so Mr Blake was put on a waiting list for Gran Canaria’s larger, public hospital.
The doctors told the insurer that Mr Blake would have to wait a month and that there was a risk of complications if he were not evacuated sooner, either to the UK or a nearer, private hospital.
The insurer insisted that Mr Blake was not fit to fly and that it was in his best interests to stay in the local hospital until he could move to Gran Canaria.
At the time, the insurance company declined to organise an air ambulance or private treatment, although it promised a partial refund if the family arranged their own flight.
Mr Blake’s GP told the investigator that the NHS would have operated on Mr Blake “within 48 to 72 hours” if he were brought home.
The FOS investigator said the insurer’s claims about Mr Blake’s fitness to fly “were not consistent with the medical reports”, and also quotes a transcript of a call between the hospital and insurer.
In it, a Spanish doctor said: “The air ambulance is so much better than here. He is not even being monitored here, as I do not have a monitor for him.
“Not even his saturation levels are being monitored; I don’t know if you are understanding… we live next to Africa! We do not have catheterisation.”
The investigator also criticised the insurer for not considering private treatment properly, and, repeatedly, failing to call the family back.
TIF, which said that private treatment was not covered, t paid £350 compensation for poor service. And the investigator’s report supported the insurer in its refusal to pay £220 car-hire costs, because of an exclusion in the small print.
The family eventually paid £22,000 for their own air ambulance, but tragically, Mr Blake died two days later in Wrexham Hospital, having suffered a stroke which had not been identified by the Spanish hospital.
It took the insurer more than six months to refund the cost of the air ambulance, after being contacted by The Times newspaper.
The findings have been sent to the family and insurer for responses. After considering these, the ombudsman will issue its “final decision”.
TIF says it has the deepest sympathy for the family and that decisions throughout were based on medical advice, given by its own team of “experienced specialist doctors with specific medical aviation knowledge”.
The company added in a statement: “There were three medical reports provided by the hospital, and none stated Mr Blake was fit to fly.
“The investigator has issued a clarification and accepted that an insurer would not be expected to arrange a repatriation against its own medical team’s advice. Insurers do not and cannot provide medical care.
“The questions as to whether Mr Blake received the best and most appropriate treatment should be directed to the hospital which had the duty of care.
“We acted fairly and reasonably, in the best interests of Mr Blake. We acted in full accordance with the insurance contract, which is, primarily, a contract of financial indemnification and does not impose a clinical duty of care on the insurer.
“We have already started defamation proceedings against The Times.”