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.
A substantial amount of work has been undertaken by the Victorian Government since this 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.
The Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) has lead a state-wide review of the emergency response to the thunderstorm asthma events that occurred on 21-22 November 2016 and released a number of reports.
The department is working with Emergency Management Victoria, Ambulance Victoria, health services, universities, and a wide range of experts to ensure we are better prepared and coordinated in the future.
Actions taken to date
Since the November 2016 event, the department has worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive 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 department has:
- implemented a public health campaign and education programs for the Victorian community and health professionals
- developed expert clinical guidelines to identify and manage those at increased risk
- built and implemented the first Victorian epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecasting system, including an expanded pollen monitoring network
- developed a Real-time Health Emergency Monitoring System, ensuring we can more quickly recognise and better manage a surge in demand on our health services
- revised our State Health Emergency Response Plan and improved how we plan, communicate and work with our health services during emergencies
- developed processes for issuing warnings in real-time on the VicEmergency website and app
- hosted an epidemic thunderstorm asthma symposium with experts from across Australia, published an extensive epidemic thunderstorm asthma literature review, and published a detailed assessment of the known environmental conditions and the health impacts of the event.
Ambulance Victoria completed an internal review of its own activities in response to the thunderstorm asthma event.
Inspector-General of Emergency Management review
In April 2017, the Minister for Health, the Hon. Jill Hennessy MP released the final report of the review by the Inspector-General of Emergency Management into the emergency response to the thunderstorm asthma event that occurred in late November 2016.
Both the preliminary and final reports of the Review of response to the thunderstorm asthma event of 21-22 November 2016 are available to download from IGEM's website. The Victorian Government's response to the review is available to download from this page.
IGEM has also monitored the progress on implementation of the recommendations from the Review of the response to the thunderstorm asthma event 21-22 November 2016. Progress reports were published in July 2018 and June 2019 and are also available for download from IGEM's website – July 2018 progress report and June 2019 progress report.
Review by the Coroner
A coronial investigation into the deaths associated with this event was undertaken in 2018. The Coroner's findings (pdf) were delivered on 9 November 2018 and are available from the Coroners Court of Victoria website.
As part of and to inform its response to the November 2016 event, the department also 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.
These reports are available from the Downloads section on this page.