Introduction: Mountain users in the UK range from super-fit athletes to children and older people. Search & Rescue (SAR) personnel are regularly called upon to rescue and treat casualties with pre-existing medical conditions who have become unwell in mountain locations unaccessible by road. In the event of an emergency arising in a remote mountain setting, help is likely to be much slower arriving, compared to an urban environment. For example, in Snowdonia (North Wales), the minimum time for help to arrive is typically in the area of 45 minutes (RAF SAR helicopter from Anglesey), rising to 90 minutes or more if Mountain Rescue personnel have to access the incident location on foot should helicopter assistance be unavailable. For some conditions, such as diabetic-related hypoglycaemia or asthma, the ability to self-medicate while waiting for help to arrive is essential. In this study, our aim was to estimate what proportion of UK mountain users have a medical condition that might require urgent self-medication, and whether they carry the means to treat themselves into the mountain environment.
Methods: 256 random mountain users (walkers, mountain bikers, and climbers) were surveyed at four mountain locations in Wales, three in and around Snowdonia and one in the Brecon Beacons.
Results: 33/256 (13%) of respondents had a medical condition that may require urgent self-treatment: 24/33 (73%) were asthmatic, 3/33 (9%) had angina, 2/33 (6%) had severe allergies, and 4/33 (12%) had insulin-treated diabetes mellitus. All of the mountain users with severe allergies, all the insulin-using diabetics, and all those with angina carried rescue medication with them, but only seven of the 24 asthmatics (29%) had with them the means to treat themselves.
Conclusion: Although comprising a moderately small sample, this survey confirms that some mountain users— particularly asthmatics—could not self-treat should the need arise. The potential delays to treatment in remote (and sometimes hostile) UK mountain settings could be particularly dangerous for this population. Mountain users with pre-existing medical conditions, particularly those with asthma, should be reminded to carry rescue medication with them at all times in the hills.