Since the November 2016 event, the department has worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Program to minimise the impact that any future epidemic thunderstorm asthma events may have on the community and the Victorian health system.
The program comprises:
- a public health campaign to raise awareness of thunderstorm asthma, help the community prepare for the grass pollen season and improve asthma and hay fever management. This includes an associated epidemic thunderstorm asthma campaign toolkit, to assist organisations to share the thunderstorm asthma preparedness messages with the community and health professionals
- a Victorian epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk forecasting system, including an expanded Victorian pollen monitoring network
- resources and training for health professionals – including expert clinical guidelines to identify and manage those at increased risk
- a Real-time Health Emergency Monitoring System, ensuring we can more quickly recognise and better manage a surge in demand on our health services
- a revised State Health Emergency Response Plan and State Health Emergency Response Arrangements to improve how we plan, communicate and work with our health services during emergencies and better meet community health needs
- an investment in research to better understand the phenomena of epidemic thunderstorm asthma
The November 2016 event
On 21 November 2016 Melbourne experienced the world’s largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event, which was unprecedented in size, severity and impact.
Calls to 000, Ambulance Victoria, and our hospitals were pushed to the limit with huge spikes in callouts, and people presenting to hospital emergency departments.
In the 30 hours from 6pm on 21 November, there was a 672 per cent increase in respiratory-related presentations to Melbourne and Geelong public hospitals (3,365 more presentations than expected based on the three-year average).
Tragically, the event contributed to 10 deaths, which was the subject of an investigation by the State Coroner in 2018. The Coroner's findings were delivered on 9 November 2018 and are available from the Coroners Court of Victoria website.
Response to the 2016 event
As part of and to inform its response to the November 2016 event, the department commissioned a review of the evidence on thunderstorm asthma and prepared a report by Victoria's Chief Health Officer on the impacts of the November 2016 event.
The Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) lead a state-wide review of the emergency response to the thunderstorm asthma events that occurred on 21-22 November 2016. The final report of this review was released in April 2017.
Ambulance Victoria also completed an internal review of its own activities in response to the thunderstorm asthma event.
In April 2017, the Victorian Government committed $15.56 million to ensure it is better able to predict and respond to similar large-scale events in the future. In October 2017, the Victorian Government published its response to the IGEM review recommendations.
Since the 2016 event, the Victorian Government has developed and implemented a comprehensive Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Program. Key elements of the program include: a public health communications campaign and associated campaign toolkit; resources and training for health professionals; a new State Health Emergency Response Plan; a Real-time Health Emergency Monitoring System ensuring early detection and monitoring of hospital emergency department demand; and an epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk forecasting and warnings system.
IGEM has monitored progress on implementation of review recommendations, publishing progress reports in July 2018 and June 2019.