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Government urges 25m holidaymakers to ‘contact their GP’ about medicines

Government officials have urged over 20 million holidaymakers to visit their GP before jetting off to ensure their medication is not in breach of overseas laws.

In a bulletin to the public, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warned that several prescription and non-prescription items are banned in some countries and could land tourists with fines or even imprisonment.

At the extreme end, the FCO said this included cold remedies such as Vicks and Sudafed being banned in Japan.

Meanwhile, commonly prescribed painkillers such as Tramadol and codeine are controlled substances in many countries, including Greece and the UAE.

GP leaders said they ‘could not agree’ with the advice, as this was ‘not proper use’ of GP time.

The advice issued by FCO said overseas holidaymakers should:

  • Contact your GP or travel health professional at least four to six weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations and if any of your prescribed medication contains what are known as ‘controlled drugs’, such as codeine.
  • Check the Entry requirements section of the FCO travel advice page for your destination country – many pages for popular long-haul destinations include advice on local requirements for bringing in medication.
  • Visit the FCO’s Foreign Travel Checklist: for links to information and tips from health professionals about travelling with medicines
  • Contact the embassy, high commission or consulate in the UK of the country you’re travelling to, if you need advice on the legal status of your specific medication 

In a statement the FCO said: ‘Currently, just one third (33%) of people get advice on taking prescribed medication abroad before they travel. With nearly half the population in England alone on prescribed medication, around 21m people in the UK could be risking difficulties at foreign borders if they don’t do their research on their summer destination.’

Julia Longbottom, FCO Consular Director said that the the travel association ABTA actually estimates that ‘about 25m British people will be jetting off on their summer holiday this year’, adding tha tthe FCO ‘want to do all we can to help them stay safe and enjoy their travels’.

She said: ‘We can see that British people are more likely to research the weather before their holidays than research the local laws and customs, so while you’re online checking out whether or not to pack sunscreen, we’d strongly encourage you to check whether taking medication into a country is okay or not.

‘You should also read our travel advice. The FCO can’t give legal advice or get people out of prison, so we are urging those heading off on their summer break to join the 16m people a year who check our travel advice, to ensure they are properly prepared for their trip and avoid any potential trouble.’

BMA GP committee prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green told Pulse: ‘We cannot agree with this advice which is not a proper use of the limited time GPs have available to care for their patients.

‘If patients are concerned about taking medication abroad they should visit their local community pharmacy who are well placed to provide the information that is needed, and can also advise on a wide range of travel-related health issues.’

BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey added: ‘This advice has obviously been made without any thought of the serious consequences it could have on the ability of those with a real need to see their GP to be able to do so.

‘The FCO should instead be empowering individuals and putting in place mechanisms for people to get this information without consulting their practice.’