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Medical emergencies on a cruise

July 2017

Flu patch Picture from Georgia Institute of Technology

Things can go wrong! Even on a lovely holiday such as the ever growing popular cruises, there is no guarantee of full health. As most of us know, unexpected problems and health issues can strike unexpectedly at any time.

Out to sea many miles from the nearest hospital and out of reach of ambulance services too, one can understand why some people have real concern about going on a cruise.

Thankfully, most modern cruise liners have addressed this well. They recognise that many of their passengers are no longer resilient 20 and 30 year olds, and ensuring good medical care for both everyday problems and real emergencies is essential.

For a start, most of the larger cruise ships will have a fully stocked pharmacy on board. Along with day to day bits and pieces, they will usually be able to provide a very wide range of medications, from anti-biotic and cardiovascular treatments to medications for eyes, ears, the urinary tract…all the common issues that day to day chemists are asked about every day in the UK.  They can often also provide vaccines and more.

For more serious conditions, including injuries of course which can occur, most ships will have an infirmary or “hospital”. This is usually down below but contains a mass of equipment to treat everything from minor non-emergencies to major life-threatening conditions.

This will be staffed by fully trained ship doctors and nurses who are specially prepared to deal with the myriad of medical eventualities that can occur. With some cruise ships carrying 3,000 or even up to 6,000 passengers, the medical team really do have to be prepared for anything.

P&O for instance, typically carry a senior doctor, a doctor and three nurses on board, although of course this can vary depending on the size of the ship. The medical staff is all specially trained to assist in emergency situations. They offer a huge range of medical facilities including ECG, nebuliser, oxygen and defibrillators of course, x-ray facilities, pathology including blood tests (even a liver function test), plus an in-patient ward and 24 hour emergency medical services.

This should be enormously reassuring to passengers of any age, although the cruise companies do stipulate that these facilities are not intended or designed to provide ongoing treatment for pre-existing medical conditions.

For some of these, such as fluid dialysis, it can be possible to continue on board but they have to be pre-arranged and the passengers need to be self-sufficient with their own supplies.

 For seriously injured or ill passengers, every ship will have a plan to cope with evacuation to the nearest port with the appropriate medical facilities. The ship’s medical staff has the authority to determine whether a passenger should be evacuated or not.

All this of course makes it very reassuring for anyone considering going on a cruise. However, one aspect that is key to it all is insurance. Medical treatment on a cruise liner is not provided as part of the service, everything has to be paid for.

Each cruise operator will be able to give advice on required insurance, but travel insurance will clearly be recommended before you start on your cruise.



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