Travel health - the view from here

 Sandra Grieve 29 Jul 2020

The effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic on UK travel and travel health services.

As UK lockdown restrictions ease, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the last few months and look forward to life returning to what will inevitably be a 'new normal'.  As a nurse in the global community, I am mindful of countries and colleagues still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on health care services, individuals, and families. We are reminded daily that this coronavirus will be with us for the foreseeable future. Vigilance in following current advice remains important for us all.

The UK is said to be a nation of shopkeepers, which manifested itself pre-lockdown; remember toilet rolls and pasta? Once the seriousness of the situation became more apparent, siege mentality was followed closely by community spirit; remember NHS rainbows and clapping for keyworkers? We humans are social animals. When faced with adversity we gather round to protect the most vulnerable. There are exceptions, cue those ignoring advice, deciding they knew better than the experts.

We are also a nation of travellers. Travel health providers are aware of travellers failing to follow pre-travel advice or ignoring it altogether. It's impossible to predict individual behaviour. Protecting travellers' health is an extremely vital public health service. Travel impacted significantly on this pandemic. With uncertainty around foreign travel, everything came to a standstill. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against 'all but essential travel' to many destinations and 14-days quarantine on return from others. There are now 'travel corridors' for destinations no longer deemed to pose an unacceptably high risk for British travellers. This advice however, is constantly reviewed and subject to immediate change. Devolved administrations' advice may differ. Check GOV.UK and FCO regularly for specific advice. Ignoring guidance may render existing travel insurance invalid.

Due to concerns and restrictions, travel medicine educational events were postponed. New formats are now being explored. Travel health services are delivered mainly in primary care settings. Most General Practices continued services, but even pre-pandemic some offered limited or no travel services. With fewer people seeking travel advice and others reluctant to visit the surgery even for routine immunisations, this has become a global issue, setting up health problems for the future. Providers may struggle to re-establish services; some may close permanently. Pharmacy travel services may adapt to meet other priorities. Expansion of the annual influenza programme in England, will be challenging.

Nurses in travel health are highly qualified, adaptable, skilled in risk assessment, risk management, disease prevention, and immunisation practices, therefore ideally suited to help fill gaps in health care services. COVID-19 will be with us globally for some time. Previous disruptions severely affected travel. British people will travel again when it is safe to do so. Arguably it has never been more important for travel health services to be available to them when they do.

Further information

Online symposium

Sandra Grieve

Sandra Grieve

RCN Public Health Forum committee member

Independent travel health specialist nurse

Page last updated - 15/09/2020