Altitude Sickness: Travel Advice

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:10 pm on 21 March 2023.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 4:10, 21 March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rob Roberts on securing this debate on altitude sickness travel advice. His constituency is beautiful: I see the Clwydian hills from Macclesfield on the other side of the Cheshire plain and have spent great times there. It is stunning and helps to remind us of the beauty of mountains, and how they attract us to their presence and make us want to spend time in them. However, he is also right to highlight concerns about altitude sickness. I hope he will recognise the sincere condolences that I extend to him and his family for the sad and tragic death of his sister-in-law Lorraine, which he spoke about so powerfully today. I am sure his family will be proud of what he has said and the request that he has made of the Government.

I also extend my condolences to other families who have been bereaved through altitude sickness, including the family of Eddie Butler, who was well known in Wales and will be sorely missed, not least, of course, by his family. Having spent time in some mountains at high altitude, I know that this is a really serious issue.

Supporting British nationals overseas remains the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s central public service. Since 1990, that service has included our travel advice on 226 countries and territories globally. Millions of people access the advice every year. We regularly review and improve our travel advice to ensure that it helps British people who are living or travelling abroad to take responsibility for their safety. The content reflects our latest assessment of risks to British people—“risks” being the important word there.

FCDO travel advice aims to help UK nationals to make better-informed decisions about international travel and to avoid trouble. The safety of British nationals is our overriding concern and our travel advice is based on an objective assessment of the risks. Multiple sources of information feed into that travel advice, including information from British embassies and high commissions around the world, from foreign Governments, from our expert staff in London and, where relevant, from the intelligence services as well.

All travel advice includes information on entry requirements such as passports and visas, and we also provide relevant information and advice on risks. The risks include safety and security matters, such as protests and demonstrations, or natural disasters, such as in areas susceptible to tropical cyclones, earthquakes and flooding. In compiling our travel advice, we work closely with our closest international partners in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The FCDO has a long-standing approach to travel advice about health risks that has been tried and tested in recent outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola, Zika and, of course, covid-19. We provide health information that is up to date and that draws on specialist medical expertise, including advice from the FCDO’s chief medical officer, and it includes directing British people towards reliable sources of expert information and advice.

All our travel advice pages provide links to expert health guidance and country-specific information from the National Travel Health Network and Centre, the acronym for which—NaTHNaC—is sometimes difficult to say. The centre is commissioned by the UK Health Security Agency to provide travel health advice to the British public and the health professionals who advise them. That health advice complements our FCDO travel advice for each country.

Individuals can visit NaTHNaC’s TravelHealthPro website for information on vaccine recommendations, current health risks and outbreaks, and factsheets about staying healthy abroad. Rightly, it is for individuals to decide whether to travel. Health risks vary considerably, depending on an individual’s personal circumstances. Some people may be at greater health risk in certain locations if they have a pre-existing health condition.

Members will appreciate that the Government cannot, and should not, make decisions about travel for individuals. We encourage British people to check relevant travel information for their destination at least two months before they travel. That gives them the time to make any preparations needed for their trip. Some travellers might want to consult their doctor or pharmacy on advice for preventing illness or managing a health condition overseas.