A Spanish doctor’s personal quest to stop the deadly, alcohol-fuelled phenomenon known in Mallorca and Ibiza as ‘balconing’ has been credited by the UK authorities with saving lives and has earned the surgeon an MBE.
His work helped identify the deadly trend among mostly British holidaymakers at popular resorts like Magaluf and Benidowm of jumping into a swimming pool from a hotel balcony or falling from height while climbing from one balcony to another.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph Dr Juan José Segura-Sampedro, who is expected to be presented with the award by the UK ambassador in Spain later in the autumn, recalled his shock on moving from his native Seville to Palma de Mallorca’s Son Espases hospital in 2015 and seeing so many cases of head and spinal injuries related to falls.
“I looked into it and saw there were no scientific studies about this,” Dr Segura-Sampedro told The Telegraph.
Studying cases entering the hospital’s A&E department over a six-year period from 2010 to the end of 2016, he found a pattern of incidents involving young men, average age 24 and predominantly British, who had consumed alcohol in 96 per cent of cases and other drugs in more than a third, suffering serious head and neck injuries in four out of five falls.
Deliberate pool dives accounted for only 13 per cent of the 46 cases Dr Segura-Sampedro examined, all concerned with individuals who survived and reached the hospital. The number of actual deaths from balconing is not known, although media reports suggest that a typical pre-Covid year would see a handful of fatal accidents.
“I looked at mental health, whether they were conflictive individuals or suffering addictions, but almost the only cause-effect element you can identify is alcohol. These are normal boys who come to have a good time,” the 36-year-old surgeon said.
The publication of Dr Segura-Sampedro’s study, entitled ‘Balconing: an alcohol-induced craze’, helped UK and local authorities understand the problem, and his work also prompted legislation by the Balearic Islands government in 2020, banning all-you-can-drink style offerings in resorts such as Magaluf and Palma Beach.
Noting that seven out of 10 such incidents occur when a person is left alone, the British Embassy launched its “Stick with Your Mates” awareness campaign and saw the number of falls reported to the Consulate drop from 18 in 2018 to seven the next year.
“Dr Segura-Sampedro can be really proud of what he has done,” said Lloyd Milen, British consul general in Northwest Spain and the Balearic Islands.
“When you consider how busy doctors are in general, he found the time between patching people up to think about how to solve this problem,” said Mr Milen.
“It’s easy to be frivolous and there are lots of jokes about balconing. People just blame the kid for doing something stupid, but just as we have drink-driving campaigns, we should see this in a similar way,” said Dr Segura-Sampedro.
“They are normal young people buying into the idea that going to Magaluf means losing control. But I think this is a tragedy – and not just the deaths, but also the others left severely disabled and unable to contribute to their families with their whole lives ahead of them.”