Ministry considers health scheme for foreign tourists

Ministry considers health scheme for foreign tourists

A caution flag prohibiting swimming is posted on Patong beach in Phuket. Bangkok Post
A caution flag prohibiting swimming is posted on Patong beach in Phuket. Bangkok Post

Road and water accidents are the leading causes of injuries among foreign travellers, with some rental car shops and tourists deliberately not following the rules.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry and the National Institute for Emergency Medicine plan to discuss the possibility of extending the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) programme to cover foreign tourists.

Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol said the ministry already raised this issue with the Public Health Ministry and is awaiting a blueprint as the government determines a safety scheme as a key element of its strategy to elevate Thailand to become a tourism hub next year.

She said foreign tourists should be included in emergency medical services at all hospitals across Thailand.

A Taiwanese tourist was severely injured in a car crash last December and was denied admittance by a private hospital, creating a media stir.

As of March 31, 128 tourists were injured while travelling in Thailand this year, with 64 fatalities.

Road accidents caused 82 injuries, according to the tourism permanent secretary's office.

Water accidents, mainly recreational cases, caused the largest number of deaths totalling 18, followed by 15 fatalities from road accidents, 12 deaths from personal health issues and two cases of suicide.

In 2023, there were 400 injured tourists and 185 deaths.

Ms Sudawan said adding foreign tourists to the UCEP scheme would help ensure their safety, complementing the current assistance programme covering foreign tourists' injuries or death.

The current programme offers compensation of up to 1 million baht in the event of death and 500,000 baht for injury, in effect from Jan 1 to Aug 31.

A tourist is seen while parasailing at Patong beach in Phuket. Patipat Janthong

The government allocated 50 million baht for the assistance scheme to last eight months for the current fiscal year.

She said the ministry needs to evaluate the actual amount of compensation in this trial period before deciding how much to propose to extend this scheme from September.

As of March, the scheme paid out around 2 million baht to tourists entitled to compensation.

An executive from the Tourism and Sports Ministry who requested anonymity said some of these injury issues have links to other ministries.

For instance, the Commerce Ministry should regulate car and motorcycle rental shops that are registered with the ministry, said the executive.

Some operators do not comply with the law, such as not asking for a driving licence before renting out a vehicle, or not providing insurance to tourists, said the executive.

Meanwhile, some tourists don't follow safety rules, particularly driving motorbikes without wearing helmets, said the executive.

Some governments have raised concerns with the ministry regarding tourist safety, including Saudi Arabia, which inquired about a large number of motorbike accidents among Saudi tourists in Phuket and Pattaya, mostly among people age 20-35.

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