Cruise passengers face high medical bills, urged to prioritise medical insurance

According to the consumer magazine Which? Travel, inadequate insurance could cost cruise passengers thousands in medical bills, The Telegraph has reported.

The research by Which? Travel has highlighted the huge bills that can be incurred by cruise travellers who are taken ill during a voyage. The study has reported bills ranging from £154 because of forgotten blood pressure pills, to £2,000 for a case of acute sinusitis.

According to the cruise lines, the charges were in line with UK private medical care, but a spokesperson from AXA said cruise doctors do charge more than the charges in a clinic overseas.

Travel medicine expert, Dr. Richard Dawood, said in The Telegraph: ‘Cruise companies have invested heavily [in facilities]: it is now commonplace to find hospital-grade facilities on board, with resuscitation facilities, laboratory and imaging tests available, a pharmacy and specialist doctors and nurses.

‘Many of the bigger cruise lines are US-owned and land-based care in the US, even for minor problems, can be very expensive and considerably more costly than the average UK passenger would ever expect.’

Cruise lines P&O and Cunard said all of their ships comply with the American College of Emergency Physicians Healthcare Guidelines for Cruise Ship Medical Facilities. However, when asked to reveal their medical costs for basic treatments such as asthma attack or GP consultation, all lines – P&O, Cunard, Fred Olsen and Princess Cruises – barring one, Royal Caribbean, declined, the report noted.

Dr. Dawood said most NHS users were completely ignorant of the real cost of medicines when purchased privately. ‘While most land-based pharmacies can keep costs down by carrying only a narrow stock, to be topped up frequently as new prescriptions require, this is not possible at sea: pharmacies must carry a large stock, catering to the needs of passengers around the world, each item having its own limited shelf life,’

Dr. Dawood added: ‘Although I understand why the costs can be high I would not like to be at the receiving end of any of the horrendous experiences reported in the Which? article, which suggest that some of the companies might be piling on the costs unduly – perhaps in anticipation of the fact that most costs will be recoverable from insurance.’

Cruise passengers will need to ensure that they have adequate medical insurance in place before travelling. ‘Cruisers should note that some companies also offer special policies for cruising holidays, and these may be better value and have a higher age limit than standard travel insurance,’ remarks Telegraph Travel consumer travel expert, Nick Trend.

Travelling with a good medical kit, with an ample supply of any routine medicines, is advisable so that common minor problems can be dealt with by one-self, the report concludes.