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Head Of Defqon.1 Medic Team Admits They 'Weren't Prepared' Before Festival Deaths

There was a failure to prepare for multiple critical patients at the Defqon.1 music festival in September 2018 where two young people died, the coronial inquest into music festival deaths heard on Wednesday.

Mike Hammond, director of medical services operations at four of the five festivals being examined in the inquest, conceded his team were not prepared for concurrent patients to require intubation at the main medical tent.

“I believed we were [prepared]. In hindsight, we probably weren’t,” Hammond told the inquest.

Joseph Pham, 23, and Diana Nguyen, 21, both died after taking MDMA at the music festival. They presented to the medical tent within 35 minutes of each other, and would later die in hospital within a little more than half an hour.

joseph pham
Joseph Pham. Photo: Facebook.

Failures to transfer the patients to the hospital quickly enough, a lack of planning and leadership, inadequate medical staff and unclear communication between paramedics, doctors and NSW ambulance were criticisms levelled at Hammond, whose business EMS Event Medical was contracted by Defqon.1 promoter Q Dance to provide medical services on the day.

An expert report prepared by emergency medicine specialist Associate Professor Anna Holdgate previously found that Pham may not have died if he had been transported to hosptial sooner. Hammond accepted that criticism.

Joseph presented first, at about 7.34pm, with Diana presenting a few minutes later. Both presented to the main medical tent showing serious signs of adverse reaction to illicit substances.

Defqon.1 Festival. Photo: Facebook

Hammond gave evidence of Joseph needing immediate ambulance transfer to hospital. He recalled the junior doctor in the tent telling him, “Mike, we need to get this patient to hospital”.

Hammond said he alerted the NSW Ambulance forward commander “within minutes” of an ambulance for Pham. However, at 8.18pm he made a second request for an ambulance, almost 50 minutes after Joseph presented to the medical tent. He recalled a sense of urgency from the junior doctor treating Joseph, but has no recollection if he conveyed that urgency to NSW Ambulance. He said he was not given a reason as to why the ambulance was taking so long.

He accepted “in hindsight” that Joseph should have been transferred to hospital earlier.

Diana Nguyen. Photo: Supplied

“So you didn’t know at the time?” he was asked.

“I said he should go,” Hammond said. “The doctor decides when I have no say in it.”

Hammond did not say he was disappointed with the level of care. “We did the best we could with what we had on sight. All care at any event can be improved.”

Following Defqon.1, Hammond said his team worked with NSW Health and have implemented a number of new measures, including ensuring a doctor specialising in intubation and resuscitation is on site at festivals when “serious risk is considered”, in addition to the senior and junior doctor on site.

“Up until Defqon.1, we’ve never had to intubate on site,” he said.

Mr Hammond also said on the night of the deaths they only had one dose of rocuronium, a drug used to intubate patients.

He confirmed he was no longer working with Dr Sean Wing, the senior doctor contracted by EMS Event Medical that day.

In the months leading up to Defqon.1, Hammond -- a paramedic and registered nurse who has been providing paramedic services to music festivals for more than a decade -- said he’d seen a significant increase in the number of drugs taken by festival patrons.

He said while usually, patrons would present to a medical tent having consumed two or three capsules, in the leadup to summer in 2018/2019, people were reporting taking six, seven or even eight capsules.

The inquest continues.