Once again winter is upon us and, apart from winter sports enthusiasts, most of us are thinking of snuggling up in front of a roaring fire with a glass of something warming rather than travelling. Once the Christmas and New Year break is over, however, out will come the travel brochures and planning will begin for next year’s big adventure, so this is the time we should be considering the service and advice we will give to our travelling patients. While our patients may think that the main considerations are vaccinations and, depending on the destination, malaria tablets, the fact remains that these precautions will protect them against a small minority of travel health risks.

Pre-existing medical conditions, accidents, respiratory tract infections, including influenza, and diarrhoea are the most likely causes of trouble while travelling abroad, and time spent discussing such potential problems will not be wasted. Nor will time be wasted in discussing the need for adequate medical insurance for travel, covering any preexisting conditions, rescue and repatriation back to the UK. Insurance offered by a travel agent or tour operator may not cover all eventualities, leaving the traveller with an unexpectedly large bill. By seeking out specialist insurers, it is possible to obtain travel insurance to cover almost any medical condition.

Advising on travel medicine

While we are considering whether our travelling patients are well prepared, we should also be considering whether we or our staff are sufficiently well prepared to advise them.

Many travellers do not seek any advice at all, and may be blissfully unaware of potential health problems while travelling. Some may consult specialist travel clinics, but the majority of those who do seek advice turn to their local GP surgery or pharmacy. In the last couple of decades travel medicine has emerged as a speciality in its own right. In general practice, much of the travel advice is delegated to practice nurses. How well have our nurses been prepared for this role? While some nurses have attended specialised courses and obtained qualifications in travel medicine, many have had little preparation for their role as travel advisers other than the occasional study day. If we are to ask our staff to carry out a specialised role, is it not our obligation to ensure they are adequately trained for that role? Time off to attend courses – and the cost of many courses – may be obstacles for many nurses and their employers, but a newly launched course may be the answer to these problems.bjfm summer holidays quote

The British Global and Travel Health Association (BGTHA) has recently launched “The ABC of Travel Health”, a primer or a refresher course for travel health advisors. It can be undertaken in your own time and at your own pace wherever a computer, tablet or smartphone is available. There are 10 “mini-courses” which can be undertaken in any order, each with a variable number of “lessons” on specific topics within the mini-course topic and which are followed by self-assessment questions with immediate feedback on the answers. A certificate is available on completion for annual appraisals and revalidation. Continuing professional development recognition has been granted by the Faculty of Travel Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow.

The course is prepared and maintained by the BGTHA. The editors are Eric Walker (Professor) and Mike Townend (Senior Lecturer) in Travel Medicine and Global Health at the University of Glasgow and there are 20 other contributors from nursing, medical and pharmacy backgrounds. All the contributors are highly qualified experts in their own particular fields, with the majority being Members or Fellows of the Faculty of Travel Medicine. The software running the course has been written specifically for the course by an expert in both writing computer code and education. The course fee is £100, but a discounted rate of £70 is currently being offered for a limited period. In addition, a discount code may be available on application for groups of 3 or more working in the same clinic.

Dr Mike Townend MB, ChB (Hons), Dip Trav Med, FFTM RCPS (Glasg), Hon Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow