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Introduction

Most people need a break from time to time, and kidney patients are no exception! Holidays are a great way to reinforce the fact that you can still enjoy the good things in life as a kidney patient – and they also provide a welcome break for carers.

Business travel is also a common requirement of many jobs nowadays, and again there is often no reason why kidney patients should not be able to make business trips from time to time – either in the UK, or abroad.

For most patients — whatever therapy they are on — travel and holidays will be actively encouraged by the medical team, who will help with the arrangements. Of course it is essential that you check with your renal unit before planning or booking anything – even if you have had a transplant you will still need a letter from them confirming you are fit to travel in order to secure travel insurance, and advice on immunisation.

Travel for kidney patients on dialysis does require more planning, so last minute bookings are not a realistic option. However, the limitations in terms of where you can take a holiday and what sort of holiday you can take are probably far fewer than you would imagine. There is also plenty of help available to assist with the planning process and to help make sure you have a holiday to remember for all the right reasons.

Talk to your unit - Before doing anything, talk to your unit. You will need a letter from them confirming you are fit to travel in order to obtain holiday insurance and their advice regarding immunisation. If you are on dialysis you will need their help in planning your treatment while on holiday.

Choose your destination - whatever your treatment, it makes sense to ensure you are within reasonable reach of medical support in case of emergencies.

Choose your accommodation - check that the accommodation you are considering is suitable for you and any special requirements that you may have. For example, if it is a hotel, do they cater for special diets?

What to ask the Dialysis Unit before booking - Before selecting an overseas clinic for your holiday dialysis, you are advised to write to the chosen hospital to ask:
a. Do they accept visitors?
b. Specify the date you would like to go.
c. (If in the European Union) Are they a state run hospital or a private clinic?
d. Will there be a charge? If so how much per dialysis session?
e. Do they accept EHIC for dialysis?
f. Do they accept patients who have tested positive for Hepatitis, HIV or Aids? ( It is not recommended that you dialyse in a unit which accepts these patients)

Holiday insurance - don’t book your holiday until you take out holiday insurance which covers you for a pre-existing medical condition. Most standard policies do not. For more details on holiday insurance contact the Helpline on 0800 169 0936

European Health Insurance Card - If you are travelling to any of the countries listed below, ensure you have a European Health Insurance Card (NB. these last for 3-5 years before you will need to apply again-see your EH1C when you get it for the Expiry Date).

In the event of a minor health emergency, this entitles you (one card per person) to the same free or subsidised hospital treatment as would be provided to citizens of the country you are visiting (note this means some of the costs may be payable in some countries)
If you need to take medication with you that must be kept cool, pack it in a small

First aid Kit - take an emergency supply of plaster, painkillers, insect bite ointment and diarrhoea tablets. As always, check with your renal unit regarding any over-the-counter
drugs you are taking.

Countries covered by form EH1C

The EU countries are:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

The European Economic Area (EEA)

The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows them to be part of the EU’s single market.

Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market - this means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals.

At the current time there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, as a result of the referendum.

The EH1C also covers treatment you need for chronic disease or pre-existing illness but you will need to make arrangements in advance for kidney dialysis. However, the EH1C does not provide cover should you need to fly home urgently, nor if you need to return from holiday because a transplant kidney becomes available. Suitable holiday insurance is required for this (ring the Helpline for details of Insurance). Keep your EH1C in a safe place with you when you go abroad, eg, with your passport. Furthr information on the EH1C is availablefrom the UK Department of Health Travellers website.

Details of the various health hazards and diseases abroad can also be obtained from MASTA (Medical Advisory Service to Travellers Abroad) who can provide an individual health brief (recommended immunisations, together with up to date health news and travel advice from the Foreign Office) according to the countries you plan to visit, your dates of travel, etc. For more information visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website (funded by the UK Dept. of Health).

Vaccinations - Find out whether you need any vaccinations for your destination but check with your renal unit before having any vaccinations - some may not be recommended for kidney patients, and transplant patients have to be especially careful of vaccines. 

Medication - always divide your supply of tablets. Keep half with you in your hand luggage, and pack the other half in the luggage you check in, or give it to a travelling companion to carry.

Take a letter from your doctor stating that the drugs you are carrying are prescription drugs. Make sure you have written down the prescription names (as written on the label) of the medication you are on, so that if your supply is lost, you can advise doctors accordingly.

If you need to take medication with you that must be kept cool, pack it in a small cool bag (the type sold for school lunches and picnics) or jiffy bag with ice packs, or use a wide neck thermos flask, which has been chilled. EPO does not need refrigeration for journeys of up to 6 hours, but make sure you allow time for transfers and delays when calculating the length of your journey. On your return trip, make sure you declare to customs any drugs you were given or prescribed whilst abroad.

Food and drink - Watch what you eat and drink. Talk to your dietician before you go about local foods to avoid. If you are travelling by plane, ask your travel agent to advise the airline of special dietary requirements.
Don’t take any risks in terms of drinking local water unless you are sure it is absolutely safe - the same applies to ice cubes and teeth-brushing (use bottled water and tie a ribbon around the bathroom tap to remind yourself not to drink from it or brush your teeth with it).

• Buy bottled water abroad or use boiled water (especially in far eastern countries)
• Avoid salads and ice cubes unless you have washed the salad or made the ice cubes yourself from bottled water.
• Avoid ice cream from street vendors

Sun Protection - make sure you take a high factor sunscreen with you and avoid overexposure to the sun. Sun protection is particularly important for transplant patients - ask your renal unit for more information.

Emergencies - Make sure you and your travelling companion(s) have with you at all times emergency contact numbers. These should include the medical contact at your destination (nearest unit or equivalent will be provided by your UK renal unit - make sure you know whether it is open 24 hours, and if not, what your alternative contact number is), numbers of your UK renal unit, travel agent and insurance company.

Useful telephone number :
The Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team - (+191 218 1999)

The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only.

More holiday information

Holiday guide for kidney patients

Holiday dialysis UK

Holiday Dialysis European Destinations

Holiday Dialysis World Wide Destinations

Holiday Companies

Travel Insurance

Holiday guidelines for PD patients

Holiday guidelines for HD patients

Holiday guidelines for transplant patients

Holiday / Travel vaccinations in transplant patients