AIDF Project 9 – RHH Hyperbaric Chamber Altitude Capability

AIDF Project #9: RHH Hyperbaric Chamber Altitude (Hypobaric) Capability – 2018

This project partially funded the installation of an important component of the new Hyperbaric Chamber at the Royal Hobart Hospital in 2019.

As part of the recent redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital, the State Government committed $11 million to build a state-of-the-art hyperbaric facility which has been purpose designed to future proof RHH Hyperbaric services for at least the next 30 years. A triple lock recompression chamber was constructed in Geelong and installed on the third floor of the RHH redevelopment.

A window of opportunity presented itself to support research that has practical relevance to Tasmania’s Abalone Industry, by adding “altitude capability” to the new hyperbaric chamber, at the time of manufacture. Currently, many abalone divers travel to altitude after each day’s diving. The altitudes range from 300 – 600 metres in the south and up to 900 metres from the West Coast. Travel to altitude results in a drop in pressure, which increases risk of decompression illness. There are decompression tables that guide divers in an effort to reduce this risk. None of the tables have research evidence for their recommendations: they are all based on expert opinion.

Inclusion of Altitude Capability within the RHH Hyperbaric chamber permitted RHH Hyperbaric staff to undertake research to test current recommendations and allow the decompression guidelines to be revised using proper research evidence. This will have benefits for the safety of divers and may result in improvements in productivity, in particular for safe travel of divers to and from the west coast following diving activities. In addition, it would be the only such facility in the southern hemisphere with combined hyperbaric and hypobaric capability, permitting as yet untapped future synergies.

Once installed, the altitude (hypobaric) capability would last for the design life of the chamber – more than 30 years. In addition, once the capability is installed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in civilian and military research funds could be accessed to facilitate hypobaric research.

A report from this important diver safety initiative is available here.