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Asthma Australia welcomes Coroner’s comments into Thunderstorm Asthma deaths

9 November 2018

MELBOURNE: Asthma Australia has today welcomed Coroner Paresa Spanos’ findings and comments into the Thunderstorm Asthma tragedy which claimed 10 lives, impacted thousands more and overwhelmed Victorian hospitals and emergency services in November 2016.

“Today we are reminded of this terrible loss of life. Above all, we wish to extend our deepest compassion to these families, and to all those whose health has been adversely affected,” said CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman.

Coroner Spanos’ findings in relation to the 10 deaths highlight that there have been many changes and recommendations already made following the unprecedented Thunderstorm Asthma event in 2016.

In Coroner Spanos’ comments in relation to the findings, she stated that “it makes sense that public awareness campaigns be continued into the future in the interests of further improving the community’s health literacy and alleviating the impact of any future surge” and that, “there is scope for further medical, allied health and general community education encouraging hay fever sufferers to submit to allergy testing in order to better understand their susceptibility to Thunderstorm Asthma”.

“We need to do all we can to increase asthma awareness to build the resilience of the community. This includes raising awareness of the link between asthma and hay fever and the need for further prevention activities,” said Ms Goldman.

This builds on the recommendations of the 2017 Chief Health Officer’s report into the health impacts of the 2016 Thunderstorm Asthma event stated that ‘Increasing awareness, knowledge and preparedness for epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma is critical to increasing community resilience and mitigating this risk. Optimising asthma and hay fever management will decrease the impact of any subsequent events, and will improve the overall health and wellbeing of people with these conditions in-between events.’

“We will aim to continue our work with the Victorian Government, other organisations and the broader community on education and ongoing management to ensure that people with asthma don’t fall through the gaps and that the general public is aware of the potential risks of asthma,” Ms Goldman said.

While Thunderstorm Asthma is a recurring phenomenon, the event which unfolded on 21 November 2016 was unprecedented in scale and impact, affecting thousands of Victorians with breathlessness.

It was the largest Thunderstorm Asthma event reported in the world in terms of both the number recorded deaths and number of Victorians impacted.

During the Thunderstorm Asthma event, Melbourne and Geelong Emergency Departments experienced more than 9,000 presentations, a 58% increase in patients over a three year average. The event inundated Emergency Services, Ambulance Victoria and Victorian hospitals with people experiencing breathing difficulties.

“We would like to reiterate the Coroner’s comments that the health system did an incredible job in responding,” said Ms Goldman.

“We need to ensure that we are building a responsive and supportive health system to prevent asthma deaths and hospitalisations all year round, not just after a crisis,” she said

Asthma Australia said that part of the solution moving forward was adopting an integrated health management system for asthma care, which leverages existing primary health care services and infrastructure.

“Organisations like ours work directly with the health system to supplement and improve asthma care. We hope to continue to work on building a best practice model in Victoria to better protect people with asthma.”

“In essence, we must not forget what happened two years ago and we must remember those who have lost their lives,” said Ms Goldman.

For more information about asthma people can contact the free 1800 ASTHMA Helpline (1800 278 462)

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