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Guidance on supporting end of life care patients while flying

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New guidance has been published for nurses and other health professionals to help them support patients in the advanced stages of serious and terminal illness who wish to travel abroad by air.

The updated guidance, relating to the care of people in the advanced stages of serious and terminal illness who wish to fly overseas, has been published today by the charity Hospice UK.

“This updated guide provides very practical advice to health care professionals”

Kathryn Myers

The charity stated that the publication provided people and those caring for them with all the information they needed when travelling “from bedside to airside” and on to their destination.

The document would help nurses with “pivotal” conversations about advance care planning involving the place that someone wants to die, the charity said.

It noted that greater global movement and more families living apart in different countries meant an increase in the number of people in the advanced stages of illness who were choosing to go abroad.

Such situations included people flying home to the country of their birth for the final time before they died, or those who wanted to fulfil a long-held wish on their “bucket list” to visit a special place.

The charity said the guidance was aimed mainly at healthcare professionals, who were often called upon to make the necessary arrangements, but that it would also be useful for patients and families.

”With careful planning I have seen many patients achieve special journeys”

Ros Taylor

The document – titled Flying Home – replaces an earlier version that was originally published in 1997.

A spokeswoman said the new guidance has been updated to reflect current Home Office regulations and advice, airline regulations and those about traveling with oxygen.

It is also now in an easy-to-read format with practical examples, she said, while noting that the principles of the original guideline “remain the same”.

The new guide is intended to provide all the information needed to ensure that people can travel as safely and comfortably as possible, including assessing fitness to fly before travel, funding and insurance issues and legalities to consider when travelling with medication.

It also includes critical guidance on what medical information to provide to airlines, and checklists to cover all aspects of travel from home to destination.

In addition, it highlights how patients deemed too high risk for commercial flights may have to use an air ambulance or repatriation agency – which can be very expensive if not insured – as well as covering sensitive issues, such as what to do if a relative or friend dies abroad.

Dr Kathryn Myers, consultant in palliative medicine and the lead author of the guidance, said: “Planning travel abroad can be complex and stressful even for those who are fit and well, especially if arrangements need to be made a short notice.

“This updated guide provides very practical advice to health care professionals, patients and their families,” she said. “It aims to allay the anxieties that can be a barrier to travel and minimise the stress so that longed-for journeys can be achieved.”

Help the Hospices/Hospices UK

Ros Taylor MBE

Ros Taylor

Dr Ros Taylor, a clinical associate at Hospice UK who was also involved in updating the report, said: “For patients whose time is short, making a final journey home becomes vitally important.

“Everyone involved in their care needs to know what to do to make sure their travel arrangements go ahead as safely and smoothly as possible,” she said.

“While not everyone will be able to travel, with careful planning I have seen many patients achieve special journeys which have made a huge difference to them and also their families,” said Dr Taylor.  

She added: “This updated guidance will greatly help to fulfil more people’s final wishes, which is part and parcel of the ethos of good palliative care.”

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