Despite a new law that requires doctors to deny treatment to illegal immigrants as part of government deficit-reduction measures, hundreds of doctors in Spain vowed on Tuesday to continue treating illegal immigrants.
"My loyalty to patients does not allow me to ignore my ethical and professional duty and abandon them," a manifesto signed by 870 doctors and posted online said.
By signing the manifesto the doctors also registered as "conscientious objectors" against the law in a database launched in July by the Society of Family and Community Medicine, which represents 19,500 doctors.
Under a controversial law which comes into effect on September 1, illegal immigrants in Spain will be stripped of their right to free health care.
Foreigners living in the country who do not have residency permits will be denied treatment at public hospitals and health care centres unless they are under 18, pregnant, or in case of an accident of other medical emergency.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government wants to cut Spain's public deficit to less than 3.0 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 from 8.9 percent last year, the third-largest deficit in the eurozone that year.
It argues that restricting free health care to illegal immigrants and steps to curb "health tourism" by Europeans will save around one billion euros ($1.2 billion) per year.
The health ministry said Tuesday it was working to create a system whereby non-Europeans in Spain could pay a fee to use the country's public health system.
The ministry did not say how much they would have to pay but earlier Tuesday daily newspaper El Pais reported that those under 65 years old would have to pay 710.40 euros ($880) per year.
Older people could be asked to pay up to 1,864.80 euros per year, it added.