Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT
Airlines 'pennypinch on medical care'
Airlines operate different rules on how to deal with emergencies
Doctors and politicians have met airline representatives to press for better medical facilities on flights.
As a result, Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, will call on Transport Minister John Reid to take action.
He will ask him to set up Europe-wide minimun levels of emergency equipment to be carried on flights.
The move comes as it was claimed in-flight medical assistance saves airlines £300m a year.
Doctors want airlines to acknowledge the contribution they make by providing free care when emergencies occur in the air.
But airlines say they are already taking steps to improve on-board facilities and rewards to "good Samaritan" doctors.
Preventing flight diversions
Hospital Doctor and Doctor newspapers arrived at the £300m figure by calculating how much it would cost to divert flights if doctors did not assist.
They claim that despite the money doctors save, airlines are failing to invest in proper life-saving equipment.
One example is a pulse oximeter, which monitors a patient's pulse, oxygen levels and breathing even in the noisy surroundings of a plane - where a stethoscope may not work.
Dr John Sills, of Whiston Hospital in Liverpool, helped out on a Finnair flight and found no such equipment available.
He told the papers: "The plane must cost several million pounds yet the price of pulse oximeters is under a thousand.
"Airlines are doing the bare minimum."
Evidence in Parliament
Tuesday's meeting presented the evidence on how much airlines save through doctors' interventions.
Professor Angus Wallace, who became famous for saving a patient's life with a coat hanger and a pair of scissors, was also there.
They met with representatives from Lufthansa, Air France and Emirates.
Tim Burrowes, deputy editor of Hospital Doctor, said the airlines' approach had been "happy and helpful".
Mr Khan said: "Passenger health has come of age. The number of passenger deaths on aircraft is now equal to or exceeds those killed in aircraft accidents each year.
"Yet a negligible amount is spent on passenger health compared with the billions spent on aircraft safety.
"We need accurate reporting of air-passenger illness and a code of best practice for the industry.
"This should at the very least include details of a standard medical pack and better training for cabin staff to make sure that airlines provide adequate help to doctors who treat fellow passengers on board."
Taking steps to improve the situation
A spokeswoman for British Airways said the airline would welcome a code of practice.
"There isn't a standard policy for rewarding doctors and we would support the aviation industry in introducing that."
The airline's fleet is also equipped with MedAire links, which allow doctors on the ground to give instructions to crew on board.
BA is also equipping all aircraft with defibrillators - which can restart a patient's heart - from next month, and is training crews to operate the equipment, she said.
All aircraft would be equipped with defibrillators by April 2000, she added.