50 years of the SA Adult Burns Service

CALHN’s SA  Adult Burns Service is celebrating 50 years of delivering exceptional patient care, ground-breaking research, and innovative practices.

Since its establishment, the multi-disciplinary unit has evolved to become a state-wide service, establishing rural GP, nursing and allied health education networks to provide care in our wider communities. It has also been at the forefront of international and national disaster responses.

Based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), it is now the tertiary referral centre for burn injuries for patients over 16 years old in South Australia, as well as the Northern Territory, western NSW and western Victoria, representing a catchment area of 2.4 million square kilometres.

The service treats more than 400 patients and 2,000 outpatients each year, compared to just 100 patients annually 25 years ago.

 Associate Professor Marcus Wagstaff, SA Adult Burns Service Head of Unit, says it has been a privilege to work with, and now lead, the team during his 12 years with the unit.

“Their skills and knowledge are unparalleled, and their enthusiasm is infectious,” he says.

“Burns care brings physical and emotional challenges to us all and together we have always risen to meet them.”

Natalia Adanichkin, SA Adult Burns Service Nurse Unit Manager, says she has observed major changes in burn management over the 25 years she has worked in the unit.

“I’m proud to see the service grow – but what remains the same is the team’s passion and desire to continue improving the quality of care for burn survivors,” she says.

As it passes its half century milestone, the unit remains at the forefront of burns care, technology, research and education, including laser surgery for scars, accurate assessment for nutritional management, scar assessment, and training of health colleagues in rural locations.


Research and innovation

The unit has developed a new skin substitute that is based on a biodegradable polyurethane platform. This skin substitute has been shown to be effective in promoting wound healing and reducing scarring.

International accreditation

In 2009, the burns unit became, and still is, the only burns unit outside North America achieving verification by the American Burn Association, a rigorous standard examining its capacity to deliver high levels of care.

Community education

The development of the Burns Link program is providing valuable upskilling for the rural nursing workforce, ensuring patients out of the metropolitan area receive access to emergency management and treatment of burns and specialist wound care. This contributes to shorter stays in hospital and minimises patient travel and time away from family.

Burn Link Therapists provide around 200 services to regional patients annually.

50 Years of the Adult Burns Service – key dates

  • 1973 – Burns Unit set up.
  • 2002 – RAH sent the first Australian Burns Assessment Team to Darwin to help assess, treat, resuscitate, and relocate over 60 seriously burned victims of the Bali Bombing.
  • 2002 – Cared for 7 Bali Burns victims in Adelaide
  • 2003 – New Burns Unit was opened.
  • 2009 – Is the first Burns Unit outside the United States to be accredited by the American Burns Association (ABA)
  • 2017 – Moved to the new state of art 15 bedded unit at the RAH

Patient testimonials:

I was admitted to the Burns Unit at the old RAH on April 9, 2013 having sustained 42 per cent burns to my arms and torso in a house fire. I was in the ICU initially and have trouble remembering any of that period. However, I do know that Drs’ John Greenwood and Marcus Wagstaff and their team saved my life, for which I am forever grateful.

My stay in the Burns Unit lasted eight weeks before being transferred to Hampstead and in that time, which was obviously a personal nightmare, I can remember the doctors and nurses being absolutely wonderful in their demeanour and their approach to me as a patient.

I recall thinking of the aforementioned doctors as being obviously brilliant and I felt humbled in their presence, and I thought the dozen or so nurses I dealt with must have been hand-picked as not all nurses could possibly be so good at their job and be so personable as well.

I can’t speak highly enough of the staff I encountered back then and thank them sincerely for making a horrible period in my life so much more bearable.


For me the Burns Unit is a place of expertise, encouragement, empathy and many emotional memories. 

My interaction with unit began in 2014 when I received burns to 75 per cent of my total body surface area.

I spent six months in the ward recovering from my injuries.

Like most areas of specialised medical expertise and technology, until you need it you are unaware of its existence. 

I was the recipient of a world first technology which contributed significantly to my recovery.

While in the security of the Burns Unit I received extraordinary physical, mental and social counselling. The staff are outstanding, and we had an amazing interaction. I am also eternally thankful for the support and compassion they gave to my family.

Major burns are a life changing event where your world does not revert to how you knew it. The Burns Unit has helped me immeasurably to find my new direction.

I reflect on my time there often and I am always grateful of the gold standard of the facilities and the staff.