Victoria acts on thunderstorm asthma

heavy clouds

The Victorian Government has unveiled plans to address emergency demand and help reduce health impacts from any future thunderstorm asthma event

The Andrews Labor Government announced that it plans to develop a Victorian-first real-time monitoring system to track emergency demand and ensure a faster response to large-scale emergencies like thunderstorm asthma events.

The real-time monitoring system will be funded in the Victorian Budget 2017/18, as part of a $15.56 million package to make sure Victoria is better able to predict and respond to similar large-scale events.

The announcement comes as Minister for Health Jill Hennessy released the final report from the Inspector-General for Emergency Management into the thunderstorm asthma event of 21 and 22 November 2016.

The report found there was no evidence to suggest that this storm would result in a health emergency of such unprecedented scale and consequences, and that Victoria had no way of predicting the likely extent, or duration of the event.

It confirms that never before had hospitals, ambulance services and emergency call takers experienced such rapid-onset demand in such a condensed time period, and across such a large geographical area.

It found Ambulance Victoria received the biggest number of requests for assistance within the shortest period, in Victoria’s history.

In his findings, the Inspector-General acknowledged that all those involved in responding to the event did a remarkable job in dealing with the unexpected and unprecedented demand.

The Labor Government has accepted in-principle all recommendations in the report, with work already underway to implement them.

This work builds on the significant steps already taken to strengthen Victoria’s ability to better understand, predict and respond to events like this in the future, the Andrews Government says. This includes a complete overhaul of the State Health Emergency Response Plan (SHERP).

It will be supported by $15.56 million in funding, which includes:

  • emergency management training for hospitals and health workers;
  • more research to improve our understanding and treatment of thunderstorm asthma;
  • education and engagement campaigns to assist communities to prepare for and respond to epidemic thunderstorm asthma;
  • increased monitoring and interpretation of pollen data;
  • research to inform forecasting, modelling and response protocols; and
  • improved real-time monitoring of data sources, including emergency department demand.

“We’re putting in place the right systems and training, so that if thunderstorm asthma or another extreme weather event happens, we’re as ready as we possibly can be,” said Ms Hennessy.

“I want to assure the families affected by this event that we have made every effort to learn from this tragedy and to do whatever we can to better respond in the future.”

AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said the Association welcomes moves to raise awareness about thunderstorm asthma.

“Wwe welcome a broader discussion on this lethal form of asthma, the extent to which it can be predicted, and the fact that all Australians with any degree of asthma or allergy need to have some sort of plan if they feel themselves getting sick,” he told ABC Newcastle’s Jenny Marchant.

“It’s important that any individual that has any history of asthma, and whether that’s fairly mild, you might see people who report classic exercise-induced asthma, or they only ever get short of breath and wheezy in the context of a severe viral infection.

“What we need is for people like that to recognise that they’ve got a tendency to hyperactive airways, and then if we see this weather phenomenon happen again that people act on the earliest possible symptoms and present themselves to a GP or an emergency department.”

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