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Navigating Hyperbaric Treatment for Divers in the UK


midlands diving chamber
midlands diving chamber

It’s amazing how many divers do not know how to access hyperbaric treatment either in the UK or overseas. Being a landlocked facility in a heavy populated area, we would say most of our DCI cases have just got back from a diving holiday.

They think their symptoms – e.g. fatigue, dizziness, land sickness, muscle and joint aches, etc – were all from the travel back home to Blighty, hauling all your heavy equipment from boat to car to home, etc. Classic cases of denial, just not wanting to accept the fact they may have decompression illness or have genuinely forgotten the extensive list of symptoms that may plague us divers.

There is also the thought that instructors, dive centres, boat staff, etc, may not want to recognise that they have a diver with DCI that may require treatment. We are all human and DCI is not discrimatory, even if your dive profile is okay. There are many factors that may contribute to DCI as we are all physiologically different. Symptoms can manifest if left so it is really important that you contact your nearest chamber for advice soon as possible.

In the UK, we are so lucky that the NHS see Decompression Illness and AGE (Arterial Gas Embolism) as a treatment they will fund. Some chambers are within the grounds of NHS hospitals and some are located at privately owned hospitals or buildings, but it doesn’t matter where they are as the treatments are usually paid for by the Health Authority. Problems arise if a diver is not registered with a GP. Effectively, no chamber should ever bill a UK resident so don’t worry about cost when it comes to DCI.

If you’re an overseas visitor to the UK sampling the delights of our temperate waters and DCI symptoms occur, then that kind of complicates it slightly, but we will never refuse to treat you if you need it. As UK divers travelling to another country, we should carry the GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card) or EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). The same for any European diver deciding to dive in our waters, however, this does not replace travel insurance. A lot of foreign health authorities don’t recognise emergency DCI treatment or have the infrastructure to financially support it, hence the need to insure ourselves. The insurance company will issue you an emergency contact number and they will manage getting appropriate emergency treatment for you.

The key thing is to get knowledgeable advice, if you are given oxygen and the symptoms resolve then yes, that’s potentially DCI. We hear this a lot, especially from divers who have been diving remotely, ‘I was given oxygen at the dive centre and I felt better so they removed the oxygen and said I was fine’ or ‘you didn’t dive deep or long enough to earn DCI’. As a diver that needs help and advice, you are perfectly withing your rights to request it, no matter how much fobbing off you are given.

If you have been diving and need advice, you can contact your nearest chamber on the British Hyperbaric website and you are welcome to call MDC anytime. Our phone is on 24/7 for emergencies only, and for anything else, please ring the landline during office hours. Don’t forget, the kettle is always on if you are passing! 

Emergency tel no: 07931 472602 | Landline: 01788 579555
Midlands Diving Chamber 
Midlands Diving Chamber, Redmond House, Hospital of St Cross, Barby Road, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV22 5PX

This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #70.

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