Eight people have died from thunderstorm asthma after a storm ripped through Melbourne last Monday.
Two people are also in a critical condition after a patient was readmitted to an intensive care unit this week. The storm caused respiratory problems for more than 8500 people.
The influx of patients was labelled an “unprecedented and unpredictable” event by Health and Ambulance Services Minister Jill Hennessy.
“It was genuinely like having 150 bombs going off at once right across metropolitan Melbourne,” she said.
“We’ve just never encountered anything of the scale and the scope.”
Ambulance Victoria received more than 1900 calls for help between 6pm and 11pm on November 21 as the thunderstorm ripped through Melbourne. The State Emergency Service (SES) received more than 400 calls for assistance, mostly for damage to buildings.
Thunderstorm asthma can affect people who haven’t had asthma before. The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) says it’s thought to occur when “rain or humid weather causes pollen grains to absorb moisture and burst, releasing hundreds of small particles that cause an allergic reaction”.
Director of Emergency Medicine at The RMH, Professor George Braitberg, said all hospital staff were enormously helpful in dealing with the influx of patients.
“We saw a record 335 patients in the 24-hour period of 21 November 2016,” he said.
“On a typical day in ED (the emergency department), we treat approximately 200 patients a day.
“I felt immensely proud to be part of this extraordinary team and watching them in action last night. And the dedication and care of those who stayed beyond the end of their shifts was extraordinary,” Professor Braitberg said in a statement.
University Geelong Hospital, 75km south-west of Melbourne, also saw an influx in respiratory problems, with 60 asthma-related cases between 6pm, Monday, and 1am, Tuesday.
Melbourne’s last case of thunderstorm asthma was in 2011, but it wasn’t nearly as severe as Monday’s episode.
Two people died in Melbourne’s western suburbs, with one of them waiting for more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive.
On Wednesday, the Victorian government announced a review into the response and management of Monday night’s events from emergency services and health systems.
The review will mean the “very best” response is provided to a similar event in the future, Health and Ambulance Services Minister Jill Hennessy said.
“We have an obligation to ensure that we learn every lesson there is to learn from this event,” she said.
A report will be presented to the state government by late April next year. – Matthew Male
Photo by Peter Weaving.