Monday, 10 July 2017

Turning preventable deaths into saved lives

Dr Lyndal Bugeja

The word ‘coronial’ is often associated with death. But as the Department of Forensic Medicine’s (DFM) Dr Lyndal Bugeja proves, the coronial system often has a bigger role in sustaining life.

Lyndal first worked at DFM after graduating from criminology. She did an internship with the National Coronial Information System (NCIS, and no, there is no connection with the TV show). This fantastic opportunity introduced Lyndal to one of the most inspiring people in her career.

Graeme Johnstone was Victoria’s State Coroner from 1994 to 2007. He could see that Coroners were in a unique position to prevent injuries because of the extraordinary insights their investigations revealed. He worked tirelessly to ensure these learnings weren’t wasted. When you hear a reversing truck beeping, that’s thanks to Graeme. He also pursued legislative changes around private swimming pool fences. Those two things alone have saved countless lives.

“I was really inspired about the possibilities of injury prevention from within the coronial system. One of the first research studies I worked on reviewed drownings and we found that a high proportion took place on small recreational boats.

“There was a culture of carrying life jackets on board because the law required it, but not wearing them. Once someone is in the water, life jackets are impossible to put on. My research gave Graeme the evidence to make multiple recommendations for wearing life jackets to be mandatory in small boats. Five years on, a study showed a significant reduction in drownings of occupants of these vessels. The outcome of this work has been referenced in both the USA and UK and considered by the World Health Organization recommended practice.

“My PhD through the Monash University Accident Research Centre also contributed to the evidence needed to legislatively strengthen the prevention role of Coroners, following a review of the 1985 Coroners Act. The review also set up a multi-disciplinary team of advisers to assist Coroners to formulate evidence-based and feasible recommendations.

“Nowadays, when a Coroner makes a recommendation, the receiving body has a three-month timeframe in which to respond, and the response and the recommendation are made public. So there is a clear record if a recommendation is rejected, and clear accountability should further injuries or deaths occur.

“Since then I’ve done a lot of work in the area of family violence and suicide prevention, which I find extremely rewarding. I’m continuing research into death investigation data and injury prevention through DFM and Monash Nursing and Midwifery.

“I love this work because you can potentially contribute to a reduction in premature and preventable deaths I’m fortunate to have been surrounded by some of the world’s experts in medico-legal death investigation, who have been willing to share their knowledge with me.”

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