Hospice UK launches guidance for seriously ill patients wishing to travel abroad

Categories: Care.

The publication provides people with all the information they need when travelling “from bedside to airside” and on to their destination.

Greater global movement of people and higher numbers of families living apart in different countries means that more people in the advanced stages of an illness may need, or choose to fly abroad.

They include people flying home to the country of their birth for the final time before they die, or those who want to fulfil a long-held wish on their “bucket list” to visit a special place.

The guidance is aimed mainly at healthcare professionals who are often called upon to make the necessary arrangements, but will also be useful for patients and families.

“Flying Home” provides all the information needed to ensure that people can travel as safely and comfortably as possible, including assessing fitness to fly before travel, funding and insurance issues and legalities to consider when travelling with medication.

It includes critical guidance on what medical information to provide to airlines, and checklists to cover all aspects of travel from home to destination. It highlights how patients deemed too high risk for commercial flights may have to use an air ambulance or repatriation agency, which can be very expensive if not insured. It also covers sensitive issues such as what to do if a relative or friend dies abroad.

The report features the case of “Ivana” – a 35 year old Romanian woman who was being treated for cancer in hospital in the UK. She often said she would prefer to die whilst looking at the mountains surrounding her “real home” in Romania. She was supported to travel there and died a few weeks later. Her family felt that enabling her return had made her feel very peaceful in her last few weeks and helped them to cope better with their loss.  

Dr Kathryn Myers, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, is the lead author of the guidance which was originally published in 1997. Twenty years on from the first edition, Dr Myers said:

“Planning travel abroad can be complex and stressful even for those who are fit and well, especially if arrangements need to be made at short notice. This updated guide provides very practical advice to health care professionals, patients and their families. It aims to allay the anxieties that can be a barrier to travel and minimise the stress so that longed-for journeys can be achieved.”

Dr Ros Taylor MBE, Clinical Associate at Hospice UK and involved in updating the report, said:

“For patients whose time is short, making a final journey home becomes vitally important. Everyone involved in their care needs to know what to do to make sure their travel arrangements go ahead as safely and smoothly as possible.

“While not everyone will be able to travel, with careful planning I have seen many patients achieve special journeys which have made a huge difference to them and also their families. This updated guidance will greatly help to fulfil more people’s final wishes, which is part and parcel of the ethos of good palliative care.”

A copy of the Flying Home report can found on Hospice UK’s website

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