Just Launched: A 13 year National Study of Non-Fatal Drowning in Australia

Non-Fatal Drowning Report Tile
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The latest research by Royal Life Saving - Australia, with support from Surf Life Saving Australia and the Australian Government shows that 6,158 people were hospitalised in Australia as a result of a non-fatal drowning incident between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2015.

The landmark report, titled “A 13 year national study of non-fatal drowning in Australia: Data challenges, hidden impacts and social costs”, identified that non-fatal drowning incidents have increased by 42% since 2002 despite drowning deaths decreasing by 17% over the same period.

The report shows that there is an average of 474 people hospitalised for non-fatal drowning each year. Young children aged 0-4 years accounted for 42% of non-fatal drowning incidents. Among children aged 0-4 years, for every fatal drowning, there were over 7 non-fatal drowning incidents.

“It’s alarming that the number of non-fatal drowning incidents in children under five is between 5 and 14 times higher than any other age group,” said Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia and Convenor, Australian Water Safety Council.

Mr Scarr is concerned by the impact on families, the health system and emergency services, “Many children who survive drowning live with very significant lifelong medical issues, which shortens their life and places great emotional and financial strain on their families.”

Michael Morris knows the devastating impact that non-fatal drowning can have on a family. Mr Morris’ son, Samuel was found on the bottom of their backyard pool when he was two years old. His mother, Jo-ann pulled him from the pool, and with the support of neighbours and emergency services, Samuel survived the tragic accident. However, Samuel sustained a severe brain injury. After a brave eight year battle, Samuel passed away in 2014 as a result of his injury.

"Having a child experience the devastation of a brain injury as a result of a non-fatal drowning has an ongoing and lasting impact on the whole family. We essentially lost our little boy twice, firstly the bright and happy little boy he was before his accident and then finally when he died after almost eight years of continuous suffering. Hospital became our home away from home, as we dealt with the many complications of Samuel's brain injury and associated disabilities. For too long children like Samuel and families like ours have been the forgotten and invisible part of the drowning problem," said Mr Morris.

In 2007 Michael and Jo-ann Morris established the Samuel Morris Foundation, which provides support services to children and their families who are disabled as a result of a non-fatal drowning or other hypoxic brain injuries.

Research partner, Surf Life Saving Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Ms Melissa King says “Understanding the magnitude of this issue and impacts to the community and families is critical as is implementing initiatives and strategies that reduce these incidents in the future. The work being done by Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving is vital in providing evidence based insights that will aid in addressing this issue”.

Concerned by the magnitude of the non-fatal drowning issue, the Australian Water Safety Council has convened a Non-Fatal Drowning Symposium on Friday 30 June 2017. The Symposium will challenge Industry, Government, private sector and academics to review the latest research, lessons from the field and the human impacts of non-fatal drowning. The event is organised by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, Surf Life Saving Australia, with the support of the Australian Government.

The report estimates that the total economic cost of non-fatal drowning averages $188 million per year, including the direct harm from long term disability caused by non-fatal drowning, as well as health care costs, long term care costs and lost economic productivity.

The report suggests that the 5% of incidents leading to long term disability generate 88% of the total costs of non-fatal drowning, with each incident leading to average costs of $6.91 million.

More than a third of non-fatal incidents occurred in swimming pools (36%), including both home swimming pools and public swimming pools. For every drowning death in a swimming pool, there were 4 non-fatal incidents.

“By gaining a greater understanding of the impact of drowning in Australia, we can determine and compare patterns and trends across key variables, using insights to inform targeted prevention strategies, support services and ongoing evaluation”, said Mr Scarr.

Non-fatal drowning is often reported incorrectly as ‘near-drowning’. 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 authors were assisted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who provided non-fatal drowning data from the National Hospital Morbidity Database.

The Australian Government supports both Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving, contributing to their efforts to implement the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016 - 2020.

For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Non-Fatal Drowning Report please visit the Royal Life Saving website at www.royallifesaving.com.au. For more information and to download the National Coastal Safety Report visit www.sls.com.au.

Click here to read the full non-fatal drowning report

Non-fatal drowning report cover

Key non-fatal drowning facts:

  • Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2015 there were 6,158 cases of non-fatal drowning in Australia that resulted in hospitalisation.
  • There are an average of 474 non-fatal drowning incidents each year.
  • Non-fatal incidents have increased by 42% in 13 years.
  • Males account for 66% of all non-fatal drowning incidents.
  • Young children aged 0-4 years accounted for 42% of all non-fatal drowning incidents.
  • Non-fatal drowning incidents in children aged 0-4 years is between 5 and 14 times higher than any other age group.
  • Swimming pools are the leading location for non-fatal drowning, accounting for 36% of incidents.
  • Children under the age of five years account for 78% of non-fatal drowning incidents in home swimming pools.
  • More than half of non-fatal incidents occurred in major cities (64%).
  • The total economic cost of non-fatal drowning averages $188 million per year.

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