30 September 2017
At our Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Plymouth (UK), Dr Ashford is part of our experienced team dealing with fitness-to-dive enquiries, diver medicals and diver self-certification forms, so she was interested to experience a different perspective, from one of the worlds most popular recreational diving areas.
Dr Ashford sent us this report…
“The chamber here has seen a lot of action over the last 21 years since it was set up. Although since the revolution in 2010/11 they have seen a dramatic drop in visitor numbers and thus the number of cases. Sharm is currently considered safe to visit according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as it is a protectorate with vigilant checkpoints surrounding the city. However, travel to the rest of the Sinai Peninsula is advised against unless essential.
The chamber here is much smaller than ours at DDRC Healthcare but runs at a fair pace. It opens at 10.30 and they begin by seeing a series of patients who are brought by the local dive clubs. These individuals have a ‘yes’ on the self-declaration form that has not been cleared by their diving doctor at home. They are then seen and assessed and in some cases they are told they cannot dive.
This has really brought home to me the need for all individuals who have medical problems to talk to a Diving Doctor prior to getting away.
As a medical referee on the UKDMC working for DDRC Healthcare, I often assess fitness to dive. There are occasions where I cannot pass an individual fit as there is not enough time prior to him/her going on the plane to their dive destination. This is not great for the patient, but also frustrating for me as i would like to allow people to dive (I enjoy diving myself).
Diver safety is, of course, paramount and if this cannot be fully assessed due to time constraints then it is very disappointing. It is even more heartbreaking to see people who arrive, see the dive centre, complete their form and then get refused a fit to dive certificate after getting here.
The biggest problem the doctors face here is that a self-certification form is signed in the UK by a GP who does not have diving medicine training. The dive clubs or centres will then question the form with the Hyperbaric Doctors here in Egypt as they do not want to put anyone at risk.
Although your GP may know you very well and may have some understanding of diving, they often do not have a full understanding of all the components of a diving trip. The level of fitness required for diving is not just for the diving, but also boat journeys, carrying heavy equipment and dealing possibly with difficult sea conditions.
So, if you do know anyone planning a dive holiday and they have a medical problem please ask them to get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or another UKDMC medical referee, ideally a good 6 weeks prior to going away.
At the Sharm chamber in the afternoon there are often individuals brought in with problems after diving – ear pain or other issues. Again, they are seen and assessed and advised.
The centre also offers some GP services for local people, often people working in the dive industry here. Basic governmental primary care services in Egypt are not as good as the UK. Although, there is a good private healthcare system with a number of clinics and private hospitals here in Sharm. As you travel into more remote areas this is not the case. Anyone who can afford any degree of private healthcare will pay for it. A few companies provide private healthcare insurance for their employees and a very few individuals would choose to pay for insurance themselves, but this is not the norm. Thus, the chamber does charge a small fee for their services. For tourists this can be claimed on their travel insurance.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I had taken the opportunity to see some of the great underwater sites here! I have been lucky and seen a Silkie Shark, octopus, rays and a lot of colourful fish. I have got my nitrox official qualification and now feel I can dive with a greater safety margin to protect myself and my buddy.”