RCN position on self-isolation of in-flight nursing crews

The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to pose significant challenges to all international travel, and HM Government’s requirement for medical professionals to self-isolate for 14 days further adds to the immense challenges experienced by all of the UK’s medical assistance companies.

These companies manage the medical cases of a large cohort of patients, including UK nationals who are unwell overseas, non-UK nationals who are medically unwell in the UK and require repatriation to their home countries, as well as international patients. Many patients have significant illnesses and diagnoses which require the supervision and care of aeromedical escorts in order to safely repatriate them on commercial flights. 

The numbers of patients requiring medically escorted repatriation is increasing, whether returning to the UK, leaving from the UK or travelling internationally, and many UK nationals abroad are feeling somewhat abandoned as medical assistance companies struggle to provide repatriations.

Currently, all doctors, nurses and paramedics who work as aeromedical escorts and return from a country which is not on a travel corridor are required to self-isolate on their return to the UK. This is having a direct effect on their ability to continue working as aeromedical escorts and consequently medical assistance companies are finding it increasingly difficult to repatriate patients, resulting in patients being stranded away from their homes and families for longer than is needed.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Critical Care and Flight Nursing Forum and the Assistance Services Medical Directors Forum (ASMDF) fully support HM Government and its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the UK. However, we are also committed to providing the best care and services to our patients, many of whom are UK nationals.

We rely on the specialist and dedicated skills of aeromedical escorts to repatriate them, and the RCN Critical Care and Flight Nursing forum alone has over 8,600 members, many of whom work as part time and full time flight nurses, therefore the impact of these restrictions is hugely significant on this workforce. We also have a significant UK wide network of Senior nursing leaders from who work in all medical assistance companies and the aviation industry who form part of our network who are also fully supportive of this exemption.

The RCN supports the position of the Assistance Services Medical Directors Forum and requests that HM Government permits all UK registered aeromedical escorts to be exempted from self-isolating following their return to the UK from a commercial repatriation from any country. Aeromedical escorts are highly qualified healthcare practitioners and are travelling for the purposes of providing direct patient care.

During the repatriation mission, their advanced training and experience being applied in terms of infection control, access to full PPE and the application of measures to reduce the risk of transmission. This training and experience further justifies why an exemption from quarantine measures is an appropriate and needed adjustment, in line with the current position for airline cabin crew and pilots.