Policy changes, better education and better regulation of doctors and other health professionals giving advice on travel health are urgently needed, leading doctors from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow have warned.
A report submitted to the Scottish and UK governments by the College’s Faculty of Travel Medicine calls for compulsory qualifications and training for all health professionals offering travel health advice and care.
Currently in the UK, there is no requirement for education for those who deliver travel health advice. There is no requirement for them to complete ongoing professional development and training (as is the case with all other medical specialties) and no career structure for travel medicine practitioners.
Dr Mike Jones, Dean of the Faculty of Travel Medicine, said: "At the moment, any medical practitioner, nurse, pharmacist, can give travel health advice. There is a lack of structure and delivery of travel medicine services. There is no compulsory formal training pathway to a recognised professional standard for travel health advisors and this means that any health care worker with the ability to prescribe and this includes local pharmacists, can set up a travel health advice clinic with no licencing, or checks on the quality of care they deliver. As a result, travellers who attend some practitioners are being placed in danger.
"You would not accept this from any other branch of medicine – for example, if you developed chest pain you would expect to be treated by someone who has had the appropriate training to recognise the signs and symptoms of heart disease. If you were referred to a cardiac clinic, you would expect to be seen by a cardiologist who has had formal training and a licence to practice."
International travel has significantly increased in the past decade, particularly travel to exotic locations. The World Tourist Trust has predicted that international tourist arrivals worldwide will reach 1.8 billion by 2030. Over 6,000 British people died overseas in 2012-13; 1500 UK citizens fall ill with malaria each year; 30-70% of travellers are affected by travellers’ diarrhoea. The rise of medical tourism – people travelling to different countries to receive medical care – has resulted in an increase in the spread of difficult-to-treat multi-drug resistant bacteria.
The report produced by the Faculty of Travel Medicine represents the work of many Board members and was the brain child of Professor Peter Chiodini, the previous Dean. Dr Jones paid tribute to all who have worked on it, including early contributors Jane Chiodini, Dr Alex Grieve and Hilary Simon. It outlines the need for formal accreditation in travel health and the requirement to complete ongoing professional development, as is the case with other medical specialties. The Faculty also call for standards of best practice and national guidelines to be adopted.
Dr Jones said, "We have published and distributed the document ‘Protecting the Health of Travellers’ to all the UK and Republic of Ireland Departments of Health, to both minsters and senior civil servants. They need to read this and start to make policy changes. We would be delighted to work in partnership with them in providing education and training, whilst they make regulatory change to improve travel health provision in the UK and Ireland."