Cruise passengers ‘left sick’ by onboard medical bills

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Charges can be a bitter pill to swallow (Picture: wallpaperstock.net)

British cruise passengers have been left feeling distinctly queasy after running up big bills for falling ill on cruises, a report out today claims.

One guest was charged £154 ($247) for replacement blood pressure pills costing 84p ($1.35) while another had to pay £2,500 ($4,000) for an overnight stay in a ship’s medical centre, consumer magazine Which? Travel says.

Many Britons, who are used to free treatment under the National Health Service, are said to be shocked by the level of charges and often cannot claim the full amount on insurance.

Passenger Verdena Downing, who ran up the £154 bill for tablets because the ship doctor ordered a consultation and ECG before issuing them, said: ‘Unless you are genuinely ill, I think medical treatment on board cruise ships is nothing but a rip-off, pure and simple.’

Another guest, Gerald Fairhurst, said his wife had to spend a night in a ship’s medical centre with pneumonia.  ‘The following morning I was presented with a bill for over £2,500,’ he complained. ‘While I was most grateful for the prompt and successful treatment, the charge did shock me.’

Which? Travel claims a fifth of 1,368 members who had been on a cruise had visited the ship’s doctor, running up average bills of £223 ($357). Twelve were for £500 ($800) or more and one was £6,500 ($10,400). Three in ten of them had to foot the whole amount themselves.

Insurance company Axa says its average cruise claim in Europe is £700 ($1,100), compared to £300 ($480) for a land-based holiday. Head of travel David Vincent said: ‘Cruise doctors have got a captive audience and passengers can’t get a second opinion.’

The magazine asked the biggest cruise lines in the British market – Cunard, Fred Olsen, P&O Cruises, Princess and Royal Caribbean – to list their medical charges. They all replied they were in line with British private medical care, but only Royal Caribbean gave specific charges, from £46 ($74) for a private prescription to £1,157 ($1,856) for treatment following an angina attack, involving 24 hours of observation.

Among advice Which? Travel gives readers in its November edition is to ensure they take enough medicine for the whole trip, check the medical excess on their travel policy and make sure their insurance covers pre-existing conditions.

Follow the Which? Travel conversation on cruise medical charges here

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