National symposium to address non-fatal drowning

A Non-Fatal Drowning Symposium was convened by the Australian Water Safety Council in June this year, to discuss the increasing trend of non-fatal drowning incidents.

The Symposium, organised by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia brought together researchers, policy makers, advocates and practitioners to review the latest research, develop strategies to reduce injuries and discuss the human impacts of non-fatal drowning.

Royal Life Saving’s report: “A 13 year national study of non-fatal drowning in Australia: Data challenges, hidden impacts and social costs”, was released at the symposium, identifying that non-fatal drowning incidents have increased by 42 per cent since 2002, despite drowning deaths decreasing by 17 per cent over the same period.

Further key findings included:

  • 6158 people were hospitalised as a result of a non-fatal drowning incident over a 13 year period.
  • An average of 474 people are hospitalised for non-fatal drowning each year.
  • Young children aged 0-4 years accounted for 42 per cent of non-fatal drowning incidents. Within this age group, it was found that for every fatal drowning, there were a further seven non-fatal drowning incidents.
  • More than a third of non-fatal incidents occurred in swimming pools (36 per cent), including both home swimming pools and public swimming pools.
  • For every drowning death in a swimming pool, there were a further four non-fatal incidents.
  • The impacts on families, communities and the health system are significant, with the total economic cost of non-fatal drowning estimated to be $188 million a year.

LSV Principal Research Associate Dr Bernadette Matthews presented Victorian research conducted in collaboration with Ambulance Victoria at the symposium.

The study titled “Epidemiology of fatal and non-fatal drowning patients attended by paramedics in Victoria, Australia” was published in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, in March 2016 (available here).

Dr Matthews said the symposium provided a valuable platform for learning and discussion.

“It is a positive step forward to see this important and often under-recognised issue being highlighted,” she said.

“By acknowledging the devastating impact that non-fatal drowning can have on a family, the symposium drew attention to the personal cost, as well as the economic cost, associated with non-fatal drowning.

“It was good to see stakeholders from industry, government, academia and the community come together to address the issue of non-fatal drowning, which in turn broadens our collective understanding of drowning.”

Non-fatal drowning is often reported as ‘near-drowning’, however this term has been replaced by the World Health Organization. Drowning has three outcomes; fatal, non-fatal drowning where the incident has long term effects, or non-fatal drowning with no long term effects.

The report was developed by Royal Life Saving, with support from Surf Life Saving Australia and the Australian Government.

To view or download a copy of the Non-Fatal Drowning Report visit the RLSSA website

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