Hyperbaric medicine's cooperative capability

This article has photo gallery Published on Department of Defence (author), ABIS Bonny Gassner (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, New South Wales

Able Seaman Medic Kiah Chapple operates a monitor inside the hyperbaric chamber at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick.   (photo: ABIS Bonny Gassner)
Able Seaman Medic Kiah Chapple operates a monitor inside the hyperbaric chamber at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick.

Navy personnel are increasing their skills in the specialist field of hyperbaric medicine by undertaking regular medical placements at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital.

Able Seaman Medic Kiah Chapple is one of those reaping the benefits of the cooperative relationship and said the experience has improved her credentials.

“As a result of this relationship, I am qualified to treat both Navy personnel and civilians," she said.

“I typically work at HMAS Penguin with divers. As they’re are pretty fit and healthy we don’t see the range of illnesses and wounds that can be treated by hyperbaric medicine."

“By working at the Prince of Wales, I have had a lot more patient contact and the experience has increase my clinical skills."

“It’s such a small, specialist field. Working in the hyperbaric chamber at the hospital has helped prepare me for situations that I might encounter in Defence,” Able Seaman Chapple said.
The Prince of Wales hyperbaric chamber is the largest rectangular hyperbaric chamber in the world and the only public facility in New South Wales, whereas Navy’s Submarine Underwater Medicine Unit at Penguin has military hyperbaric diving chambers.

Dr Robert Turner is Medical Director in the Department of Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine at the hospital and is also a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Australian Navy Reserve. 

He said the relationship between he two organisations increases knowledge, research and workforce capability.

“By working together, we can treat emergency patients, including divers at either unit," he said.

“This capability is important, as Prince of Wales Hospital nursing staff and Navy medics can only perform a limited number of treatments in a twenty-four hour period due to the accumulation of nitrogen in their tissues and the subsequent risk of decompression illness."

“On occasion, we have multiple emergency patients, so by working together, we can provide a buffer and cross refer between facilities,” Dr Turner said.

The additional capability increases capacity to deal with after-hours emergencies or as a backup if one unit is unexpectedly offline.

“We operate our chamber on a regular basis, so this allows Navy medics to have increased experience and currency with patient treatment in a pressurised environment.”

He said that is was not only divers who could benefit from hyperbaric medicine.

“The majority of our work involves people with radiation injuries and diabetic ulcers,” Dr Turner said.

“This cooperative relationship is good for both units – in the delivery of clinical care, teaching and provides the potential for us to set up co-operative research projects.”