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SHS launches guide to support seafarer healthcare interactions

The Seafarers Hospital Society has launched a free Seafarer Health Consultation Guide to assist interactions between seafarers and health professionals with the aim of improving healthcare outcomes and meeting the unique needs of seafarers.

Seafarers often work for long periods without access to normal healthcare provisions while being required to meet internationally agreed-upon medical fitness standards per the requirements of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). With many medical professionals unfamiliar with the unique health requirements and risks associated with working at sea, the Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS) has launched a Seafarer Health Consultation Guide aimed at bridging the communication gap between seafarers and their families and healthcare professionals working in the UK. 

SHS trustee, Dr Tim Carter, said, “Seafarers all too often find that when they see a health professional, whether it is a GP, a hospital doctor, a dentist or another clinical specialist, there is little understanding of their special healthcare needs. These may result from periods on board when they are not available for treatment or follow-up; it may be that they need prescriptions of longer duration than normal, or it may be that they need additional immunisations.” 

He added, “Few health professionals are aware of the fitness requirements for seafarers and the need to expedite investigations while they are ashore or to place more emphasis on prevention, for instance to reduce the risk of dental problems while at sea. All these are topics that I know led to misunderstandings during my fifteen years as a medical adviser to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).”

Dr Charlotte Mendes Da Costa, a trustee of SHS since 2009, said, “This new guidance for Seafarer Health is a welcome guide for a group whose healthcare needs have too often been overlooked, for a variety of reasons. It is particularly relevant to doctors – both GPs and hospital doctors, practice nurses, physiotherapists and dentists. The guide is well written, in plain English, and is both comprehensive and concise. It should be saved to the favourites list of any health care professional who regularly cares for seafarers in the UK, of any nationality.” 

“It is also worth remembering that seafarers are an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure, enabling transport of goods including food and fuel, and without whom the country would soon ‘grind to a halt’. As an NHS GP myself, and an SHS trustee, this is a guide I will be referring to and sharing with my colleagues because although I work in a landlocked London borough, seafarers do live in all parts of the UK,” she concluded. 

Dr Charlotte Mendes da Costa MBBS MRCGP MFHOM

The information provided draws from SHS’ own outreach services, as well as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).

Sandra Welch, CEO of the Seafarers Hospital Society, said, “From our longstanding work with seafarers, we know of the urgent need to bridge this divide in communication between crew and their families and healthcare providers. We hope that making the Seafarer Health Consultation Guide freely available online — in a format that is easy to download to electronic devices or print out — will ensure that any seafarer or healthcare provider seeking better communication will be able to access its information and use it effectively.”

The Seafarer Health Consultation Guide is freely available for download here.