Airlines must do more to safeguard their passengers' health, say experts

The campaign to make airlines more medically responsible continues apace. Air Canada is one of the lastest big carriers to join MedAire's emergency air-to-ground service, Medlink telemedicine, and it will also be carrying defibrillators from this autumn.

The campaign to make airlines more medically responsible continues apace. Air Canada is one of the lastest big carriers to join MedAire's emergency air-to-ground service, Medlink telemedicine, and it will also be carrying defibrillators from this autumn.

Next month the government inquiry into whether airlines should give health advice is published. It is expected to recommend that airlines do more to inform passengers of the health consequences of flying.

But Farrol Kahn, director of the Aviation Health Institute, is not happy that there is enough being done. "I still feel there is a long way to go when it comes to what airlines carry in their medical kits," he said. "These items are very often cheap and include items like Ventalin for asthma, painkillers, and something for nausea and vomiting. It is not too much to ask that airlines routinely carry these."

Neither is the Independent on Sunday's own travel doctor, Dr Jules Eden, impressed. "It's all very well having defibrillators and Medlink, but I would argue that long-haul aircraft in particular need to take much more in the way of remedial medical kits," he said. Among his recommendations would be saline drips, asthma medicines - even sedatives in the increasingly likely event of air rage.

Mr Kahn also proposes that airlines and tour operators educate the public about the conditions on board a pressurised jet before boarding. He believes that airlines should also train key members of the cabin crew to paramedic status, and aim to entice travelling doctors into revealing themselves. "Airlines rely on the statistical probability of having a doctor on board, which is fairly useless," said Phil Johnson, the editor of Doctor.

Mr Kahn adds that doctors who are flying should be encouraged to come forward - something that he believes they are increasingly loath to do from fear of litigation - by introducing an incentive honorarium such as £100.

The report should also aim to stamp out differences between the airlines. Mr Kahn says Lufthansa comes out best and that British Airways jets tend also to be comparatively well stocked.

Mr Johnson added that many of the larger airlines do exceed Civil Aviation Authority guidlines. "But one of our areas of concern is charter airlines. They tend not to want to carry lots of equipment as space is at a premium. There needs to be greater standardisation between airlines."

The most common in-flight medical incidents are diarrhoea and vomiting, fainting, bruises and sprains. The major reasons for diverting an aircraft are chest pain and heart problems.

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