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'Is there a doctor on board?'

This week, Dundee fourth year medical student Craig MacLean made national news by saving the life of a cardiac arrest patient aboard his flight to Dubai.

In the absence of any doctors on board, Craig kept calm and carried out emergency treatment on the man, until the plane could land. Airplane

He said: ‘[The patient] was a big guy. He was not breathing and had no pulse. I thought “this is a cardiac arrest” and after that I went into automatic — everything external just disappeared.’ Read more here.

Back in 2010, BMA News reported on doctors travelling by public transport, who’ve responded to the dreaded tannoy request: ‘Is there a doctor on board?’

At the time, County Down consultant in anaesthesia and pain management Peter Maguire said:

‘The most embarrassing experience was when I was on a European flight with more than 60 anaesthetists on board.

A call went out for a doctor - I was a SpR and all the consultants put their newspapers up in front of their faces.’

Dr Maguire said he was keen to embarrass the consultants by tending to the patient.

‘It was a diabetic emergency – they are quite common and really easy to deal with.’

London consultant in obs and gynae Shree Datta was on a Eurostar train travelling between Paris and the UK when passengers were trapped for 17 hours in December 2009.

She explained that some passengers and staff had to be treated for panic attacks, a common condition for ‘Good Samaritan’ acts.

Finally, an hour after take-off on a flight from Nigeria to the UK, Bristol consultant in perioperative medicine Stephen Mather responded to a call to help a patient with a leg injury.

‘She had all the symptoms and signs of acute septicaemia and was becoming rapidly unconscious,’ Dr Mather said.

Fortunately, there was a drip on the flight and Dr Mather had some oral antibiotics in his bag.

‘I made her drink three or four times the oral dose, so we managed to maintain her on the edge of consciousness for the remaining seven or eight hours of the flight.

‘It took me about two hours to stabilise her and we moved her through to the business class area and laid her flat on a seat.’

GMC guidance Good Medical Practice (2013) says: ‘You must offer help if emergencies arise in clinical settings or in the community, taking account of your own safety, your competence and the availability of other options for care.’

We want to hear about the times YOU'VE helped out in emergency situations. Have you ever had to treat a member of the public when you were off-duty? Leave your stories below....

1 reply

  • This afternoon, I spoke to Dr Maguire who said dealing with public emergency situations is still something he deals with regularly and most commonly aboard planes (he's a frequent flyer) and at airports. In fact, he estimates he gets called on every two to three weeks.... So far, he's dealt with one death on a plane, cardiac arrests, asthma attacks, burns, middle ear problems related to cabin pressure and recently, a miscarriage among other things. As an anaesthetist, Dr Maguire is an expert in resuscitation, but recognises other doctors may not be so comfortable in this role.