Thailand explores extending emergency coverage to foreign tourists

Picture courtesy of Bangkok Post

The possibility of extending the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) programme to safeguard foreign tourists is being explored by the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the National Institute for Emergency Medicine. This move comes in the wake of a rising number of injuries among tourists, primarily due to road and water accidents.

The proposal to include foreign tourists under the purview of emergency medical services across Thailand was initiated by Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol. A blueprint is currently awaited from the Public Health Ministry, as part of the government’s strategy to enhance safety measures, thereby promoting Thailand as a major tourism hub in the coming year.

A case that triggered widespread media attention was the denial of admission by a private hospital to a Taiwanese tourist who had sustained severe injuries in a car crash in December. Up until the end of March this year, the country has witnessed 128 tourist injuries and 64 fatalities.

The permanent secretary’s office of tourism revealed that road accidents accounted for 82 injuries. The majority of deaths, totalling 18, were due to water accidents, primarily recreational, followed by 15 fatalities on the road, 12 health-related deaths, and two suicides. The year 2023 saw 400 tourists injured and 185 deaths.

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According to Sudawan, incorporating foreign tourists into the UCEP scheme would bolster their safety. This would supplement the existing aid programme that covers injuries or deaths of foreign tourists, offering compensation of up to 1 million baht (US$27,300) in case of death and 500,000 baht (US$14,000) for injuries.

The scheme has been operational from January 1 to August 31, with the government having set aside 50 million baht (US$1.4 million) for it. The actual amount of compensation to be proposed for extending the scheme from September will be decided after evaluating the trial period. By March, the scheme had disbursed around 2 million baht (US$55,000) in compensation to eligible tourists.

Tourist safety

An anonymous executive from the Tourism and Sports Ministry highlighted that some of these injury issues are interlinked with other ministries. For instance, the Commerce Ministry should regulate car and motorcycle rental shops registered under it.

There have been cases of non-compliance with the law by some operators, such as not demanding a driving license before renting a vehicle or not providing insurance to tourists. Additionally, some tourists overlook safety rules, especially not wearing helmets while riding motorcycles, reported Bangkok Post.

Concerns regarding tourist safety have been raised by several governments, including Saudi Arabia, which expressed concern over the high incidence of motorcycle accidents among Saudi tourists, particularly those aged between 20 and 35, in Phuket and Pattaya.

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