On the 9th September, I was checking in at London Heathrow – the first time leaving UK borders since February 2020. The covid pandemic had somewhat reduced me from a global to a national GP with the restrictions placed on travel. So much so that I had almost forgotten what my previous globe-trotting life felt like. What was worth the effort to complete a million forms and putting myself at additional risk of covid? The Balearic Meeting held in Palma de Mallorca of course.
The Balearic islands are part of an archipelago in the Mediterranean sea and consist of several islands – the largest being Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. As a part of Spain, the formal language is Spanish but locals also speak Catalan, a dialect also used in Northern Spain around Barcelona. The Balearic Meeting usually attracts around 100 people with about 10-15 being non-Spanish delegates. However, this year, there were only 45 delegates and four non-Spanish speakers (two Dutch and two British), which gave it a cosy feel with an opportunity to get to know everyone during this one-and-a-half day event.
The first day was full of workshops. I had signed up to one on art therapy whilst my fellow Brit, Stuart, headed off to learn about deprescribing. Our experiences could not be more different! At 9am, I was bundled into a room with a scented humidifier and music playing and before I knew it, I was leaping and dancing around with everyone with wild abandon. The British are well known for our social inhibition which means that we often need buckets full of alcohol to initiate something that our Continental colleagues could do without a second thought. It is a very liberating experience and that was it; I was plunged head-first back into European life. So whilst I was dancing like nobody was watching, Stuart was studiously learning about rationalising medications. Which one would you have chosen?
After I had released all the British tensions, we headed to coffee and then back to the venue to learn about common arrhythmias. Unlike the UK, emergency medicine does not exist as a specialty which means that GPs in Spain often have to cover it. A lot of the teachings we received involved very acute situations in line with their work needs such as how to manage fast AF. We then covered insulin therapy and then we had a session on how to interpret spirometry results. Normally, I shy away from clinical workshops because guidelines are different in every country and, in the UK, we have the NICE guidelines which are robust and evidence-based. However, these sessions really challenged my preconceptions as I was learning some pretty practical things that I could use right away in my daily practice. More than that, I had a newly felt love for my Emergency Medicine colleagues; I guess you take for granted what you have at your finger tips.
The Balearic islands are often noted for its touristic party scene which means that the landscape, culture and food are often overlooked. Mallorca is famous for its olive oil and I was very grateful to the organiser Dr Matteo Mannucci who gave me a home-pressed bottle that he receives from his patients. Hilariously, it was stored in a Bourbon bottle which meant that the other delegates were inspecting it quizzically trying to guess its contents. On the Friday night, we were taken to a bar known for its smooth vermouth which was a bit too easy on the palate. Unfortunately, dancing is off the cards in Mallorca due to government restrictions so we trotted off back to bed after our third glass. After the closing ceremony on the Saturday, we nipped to the beach and had a swim in the clear waters followed by a yoga session up in the mountains. In the evening, we were dining at a harbour-side restaurant overlooking the sea overlooking the castle that was illuminated at night. Life couldn’t be much more Instagrammable.
I decided to head home early on Sunday catching the lunchtime flight and, as I write this in departures, I read longingly at the Whatsapp group messages organising the trip to the beach. I am so glad that I ventured on this little trip which not only brought me back the joys of being part of the European network but was also a wonderful break from UK life. Like for all of us, life has been tough for the last 18 months and having this moment to escape makes me feel liberated. The Balearic meeting happens every year in September and I truly recommend that you go. The website is here if you want to have a good look.
Going abroad is stressful at the best of times but, in times of Covid, can be even more challenging. I was very lucky because my friend Stuart who was attending the meeting as well sent me a checklist of things to do (both on the way to Spain and also on the way back). I think we both know that I would not have even been able to leave the UK without this invaluable advice so I would like to publicly thank him for getting me there and back.
NB: this information will probably be out-of-date by the time this is published. Please check up-to-date guidance.
- I am double vaccinated as I suspect most UK doctors are so I can only share my experience as someone who has a vaccine passport. A PDF copy needs to be downloaded from the NHS app.
- A Spanish passenger locator form needs to be completed within 48 hours of flying
- I flew with BA so they checked both of the above at check in. Otherwise they will check on arrival.
- Normally I have annual travel insurance so it was only as I was leaving my flat to head to the airport did I realise that I had no travel insurance. Some frantic messaging with Stuart ensued where he said that we still have reciprocal healthcare with Spain even after Brexit so I just needed a valid EHIC card. Mine expired in 2018 so I applied for a GHIC card but that wasn’t going to arrive for a few days. I was then trying to compare costs on the train to the airport because it needs to be active before you depart. It was £15 for annual European cover so actually the stress wasn’t for anything.
To the UK
- Once we arrived in Mallorca, we needed to start thinking about getting a lateral flow test as proof to re-enter the UK. This needs to be within 3 days before arrival. In some countries, this can be done at the pharmacist but we had to ask some of the local doctors who signposted us to a private walk-in clinic. It was a conveyor belt of lateral flow testing and I almost wasn’t able to do it because I didn’t have my passport but actually another form of ID (my NHS smartcard of all things) and my passport number sufficed. The negative test was a relief because it meant that we could both go home.
- About a week before leaving to go to Spain, I ordered a PCR test online ready for my test that I would need after I get back (day 2 PCR test). This arrived literally 2 hours after I left to go the airport so it’s currently at my neighbours but I didn’t realise I needed the code that comes with it to complete my UK passenger locator form that I needed to board the flight back home.