High Seas Healthcare – Australian Antarctic Program (News 2021)


Medical expertise honed over decades in Antarctic and maritime environments has been funneled into a new facility on Australia’s new icebreaker RSV Nuyina.

The ship’s medical facility has an emergency room, operating room, x-ray machine, consultation room and 2-bed room, all with links telemedicine, located at the same level as the helideck to facilitate patient transport.

Much of the medical establishment on RSV Nuyina is set up on its first delivery trip by two medics from the Australian Antarctic Division, and will be fully operational upon arrival in Hobart.

One of the medics at sea is Dr Mal Vernon, a veteran of marine science trips on the Aurora australis and seven seasons at Antarctic and Subantarctic research stations.

“At full capacity, RSV Nuyina will carry a total of 149 people on long journeys for months in some of the most extreme and unforgiving environments on Earth, ”said Dr. Vernon.

“People who don’t feel well on a ship can have a big ripple effect. In a month at sea, a lot can happen, especially in Antarctica where you are far away.

In addition to treating seasickness and minor injuries, the medical facility has the capacity for blood transfusion, general anesthesia and surgery with the support of telemedicine from the Polar Medicine Unit and specialists at Earth.

“We are not alone and the limits of what we can do depend on the experience of the practitioner. With the support of telemedicine, we can respond to most emergencies, ”he said.

The top priority of the doctors on board is that the RSV Nuyina remains free from COVID-19.

“COVID is very present in our minds. We have state-of-the-art PCR tests for COVID that have a turnaround time of 40-50 minutes between patient and result. “

AAD’s Polar Medicine Unit Chief Medical Officer Dr Jeff Ayton said Australia’s operations in Antarctica have gained a global reputation for excellence in medical safety and healthcare.

“In the event of illness or injury, everyone involved in Australia’s Antarctic program can expect the best medical care available given their remoteness and extreme environment,” Dr Ayton said.

“The Australian Antarctic Division is a founding partner of the Center for Antarctic, Remote and Maritime Medicine (CARMM) working with the Government of Tasmania Health Services, the University of Tasmania and the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, ensuring excellence in healthcare in remote and extreme environments.

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