It’s the least exciting part of a cruise ship and one place you hopefully don’t have to discover during a cruise, however is always handy to know it exists just in case, and that is a ship’s medical centre.
Almost always located on one of the lowest available decks accessible by passengers, a ship’s medical centre is generally staffed by at least one (often two) doctors and nurses almost around-the-clock, with these same personnel on-call 24/7 to attend to any situations that may arise at any time during your cruise.
The Medical Centre is one place onboard that a cruise line doesn’t particularly want to be too busy, however with thousands of people under their care, it’s inevitable that like your neighbourhood doctor, there will be a steady parade of patients requiring treatment for everything from the routine through to minor accidents and occasionally, even to stabilise a passenger who may involved in a more serious emergency, which can happen.
Cruise lines need to be informed at the time of booking if you or any member of your cruising party suffer from any illnesses or situations which will require treatment while onboard. The same goes for anybody acting as a personal carer, however in that case, the main passenger will need to provide their own wheelchair if one is required.
Most ships have a limited supply of their own wheelchairs however these are generally reserved for medical centre usage. Guests are able to notify their cruise line about these requirements, with many gaining this information via a pre-cruise health questionnaire. Most ships can only cater for situations arising while onboard and not any treatment a guest knows they’ll need while on their holiday, unless the ship agrees to in writing in advance.
Fees associated with engaging the services of an onboard doctor or nurse are almost always charged as an additional fee (even on an all-inclusive cruise line, as a medical centre is not a service everybody may need) and these costs escalate depending on the level of emergency and whether the passenger can get themselves to the medical centre or if treatment is needed either in a guest’s stateroom or elsewhere on the ship.
On-call service will also attract a surcharge however in many cases, your travel insurance may cover you for these, so you may be able to claim back part or all of the cost.
Some of the equipment fitted to a medical centre includes a defibrillator (and many ships have more of these positioned elsewhere), an EKG (electrocardiogram) system, nebulisers, glucometers, pulse oximeters ventilator, a portable X-Ray unit, lab equipment if any sample analysis is required and a sizeable range of over-the-counter medications, which can be charged to a passenger’s onboard account.
This is not the limit of what a ship can cater for, and different ships may have more or less equipment, however will have taken its passengers’ needs into account.
Medical centres run quite extensive operating hours, and information about these hours are usually published daily in the onboard newsletter. While appointments can be made to see a doctor or nurse if you know what you’ll need, medical centres also welcome guests on a walk-in basis, and depending on the severity of your circumstances, there may be a wait.
While not specifically related to the medical centre, it is important to note that many cruise ships abide by US laws in terms of onboard conduct, and it is currently not legally required for a ship to provide a lifeguard to watch people in a ship’s swimming pools.
While rare, there have been instances where passengers of all ages have tragically drowned or been pulled from a pool in need of emergency CPR. All crew members are trained in basic CPR however are not responsible for lifeguard duties, including keeping an eye on children using a pool.
Only a small percentage of passengers on a cruise really end up needing or using a ship’s medical centre, however it’s well worth knowing a small range of minor, essential services are there and readily available if needed, with the ability to evacuate a passenger if needed. As always with specific and individual circumstances, check with your travel agent or cruise line on their suitability to meet your requirements at the time of making your booking.