UNSW tops nation in NHMRC Partnership Projects grants

UNSW Sydney researchers have secured $5.8 million for six projects that will improve Australian public health services.

UNSW Library Lawn and building

The high success rate highlights the exceptional work of UNSW researchers. Photo: Jacquie Manning.

Projects to educate prisoners about hepatitis C, treat severe depression and unify health records are some of the major UNSW winners in the latest National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding announced as part of this week’s federal budget.

UNSW Medicine was awarded $5.8 million for six partnership projects, part of $20.3 million funding awarded by the government for research to create partnerships among decision-makers, policymakers, managers, clinicians and researchers in Australia. UNSW Sydney topped the country, being awarded 28 per cent of the funding awarded in this round of Partnership grants.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Nicholas Fisk said the new funding and high success rate (75 per cent) highlight the exceptional work of UNSW’s researchers engaging with policymakers to improve community health services.

“Health is a now a team sport, and working hand in hand with partner organisations is the key to changing practice and outcomes across a range of key public health priorities for Australia,” Prof. Fisk said.

Hepatitis C education in Australian prisons

Professor Andrew Lloyd from the Kirby Institute at UNSW received $1.15 million in NHMRC Partnership funding for a program to enhance hepatitis C testing and treatment uptake in Australian prisons by improving hepatitis C health literacy in the prison sector.

“The prison sector is becoming increasingly important for the Australian hepatitis C elimination effort. This project will introduce a hepatitis C education and awareness-raising program, tailored to the unique circumstances of the prisons,” Prof. Lloyd said.

“Highly effective treatments for chronic hepatitis C are now available. Every state and territory prison system has well-developed hepatitis treatment programs in place, but more needs to be done to increase the number of people in custody accessing treatment.”

This Partnership brings together prison health service and correctional organisations from across Australia, along with consumer support organisations and key pharmaceutical companies, to conduct a comprehensive research evaluation of the National Prisons Hepatitis Education Program: a new hepatitis C education program being developed specifically for the prison setting.

The program aims to raise awareness, change negative attitudes and support health-promoting behaviours among prisoners, as well as correctional and healthcare staff, to enhance hepatitis C treatment uptake in the sector.

Providing support to gay and bisexual men who use methamphetamine

Associate Professor Garrett Prestage from the Kirby Institute at UNSW received $1.06 million in NHMRC Partnership funding for a project to treat and support gay and bisexual men who experience difficulties due to their use of methamphetamine (MA).

“Methamphetamine dependence is a key public health priority for Australia. Gay and bisexual men have very high rates of drug use and are at high risk of methamphetamine dependence, which needs an appropriate referral to tailored counselling, clinical care and peer support,” A/Prof. Prestage said.

Working with hospital and community-based alcohol and drug service organisations, the project will develop interventions for MA disorders. It will also identify psychosocial and service-related barriers to accessing specialist alcohol and other drug support among gay and bisexual men.

“This project will help improve access to care and support and reducing methamphetamine dependence and its harmful outcomes,” A/Prof. Prestage said.

The project partners are ACON, St Vincent’s Hospital, the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) and Positive Life.

Providing support to patients following hospitalisation

Scientia Professor Mark Harris from UNSW’s Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity received $1 million for a project to evaluate ways community health workers can provide follow up and support care to patients after they have been in hospital.

“Patients with multiple long-term conditions are at risk of re-hospitalisation which places a significant burden on the health system. Community health workers are a cost-effective way to help patients navigate the transition from hospital to the community and access ongoing care,” Prof. Harris said.

The project will develop a program for community health workers to provide follow up and support care to patients following hospitalisation. A trial will be run to evaluate the effectiveness of community health workers on health service and health outcomes.

Partners in this study are the Sydney Local Health District, Central and Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network, NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation and Health Consumers NSW.

Evaluating regional health care alliances

Professor David Peiris from The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW received $956,000 in NHMRC Partnership funding for a project that aims to strengthen health system performance in NSW.

“Widening inequities, large variations in the quality of care and uncontrolled growth in health care spending – which now represents more than 10 per cent of GDP – are threatening the sustainability of Australia’s healthcare system and ultimately the nation’s prosperity,” Professor Peiris said.

“This project involves an exciting NSW policy reform initiative to support the formation of regional alliances between Local Hospital Districts and Primary Health Networks. These alliances, called Patient Centred Collaborative Commissioning Groups, will be tasked with developing new ways of working to achieve better patient outcomes more efficiently.”

Several new alliances are in the process of being established with the goal of having state-wide coverage in all 10 NSW Primary Health Network regions. Populations to be serviced are diverse. For example, Western Sydney is focusing on community-based services for patients with urgent care needs who would otherwise use the emergency department. Western NSW is focusing on improving quality and access to care for people with diabetes at high risk of complications.

The project is a partnership between the New South Wales Ministry of Health (NSW Health), Local Hospital Districts (LHDs), Primary Health Networks (PHNs), the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) and health service researchers from The George Institute, UNSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health and the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney.

Treating severe depression

Professor Colleen Loo from UNSW Medicine’s School of Psychiatry received $909,000 in funding for an Australasian partnership to improve severe depression. The project partners include NSW Health, Ramsay Health care, the Singapore Institute of Mental Health and the Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation.

“I am really excited to receive this grant because it addresses an issue I have been passionate about for over 10 years – improving current clinical practice to deliver high-quality treatment to people with severe depression,” Prof. Loo said.

The project will focus on how to improve patient outcomes using highly effective and novel treatments for depression: electroconvulsive therapy, ketamine, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation.

The project will use data from real-world clinical practice to inform treatment guidelines, recommendations and cost-effectiveness.

Unifying health data

Professor Siaw-Teng Liaw from UNSW’s School of Public Health & Community Medicine received $735,000 in NHMRC Partnership funding for a project that will combine and quality assure data from different health care services and facilities.

“This project has many positive outcomes,” Prof. Liaw said. “It will ensure health data held in different sources are saved in the same format, it will enable personal data from disparate systems to be integrated and become interoperable, and it will ensure a standardised approach to the governance and ethics of how health data are stored, shared and used.”

Working through the Australian Health Research Alliance, this project will link clinical data collected from general practices and combine them into a common data model. It will then link general practice data to other sources of data including hospital data and genomic tests.

This will enrich existing data routinely collected in clinical information systems and promote personalised medicine, which tailors treatments to individual patients rather than treating patients with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Personalised medicine uses information from past clinical events, family history and genomic information.

The project partners are NPS MedicineInsight, Central and Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network, South Western Sydney Local Health District and GP Synergy.

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