Health researchers recognised in 2018 Research Action Awards

Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Health researchers recognised in 2018 Research Action Awards

Three Australian researchers whose work has had a significant impact on healthcare policy and delivery were recently honoured in the Sax Institute’s 2018 Research Action Awards.

A non-profit, independent organisation, the Sax Institute established the annual Research Action Awards in 2015 to recognise those whose work has made a significant impact on health policy, programs or service delivery. It has a membership base of over 50 public health and health services research groups and their universities, with the awards open to member organisations who conduct public health or health services research. Each winner receives a certificate and a prize of $5000.

Associate Professor Anne Abbott, from Monash University, was awarded for helping to avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful surgery for stroke prevention.

People with advanced carotid stenosis (narrowing of the main arteries supplying blood to the brain) but without related stroke symptoms were until recently recommended procedural treatment, but this came with a significant risk of harm. Assoc Prof Abbott discovered that medical intervention (appropriate medication and lifestyle changes) alone can reduce the risk of stroke in these people by at least 65%, compared with previous practice. It is now recognised by many that medical intervention alone is the best option for advanced asymptomatic carotid stenosis, and trials now incorporate medical intervention as well as procedural arms.

Professor Kate Curtis, from the University of Sydney, was awarded for prevention and care of critical childhood injury.

Prof Curtis heads up a major program of research that aims to fill the gaps in paediatric trauma knowledge and reduce the incidence and impact of childhood injury. Her research has for the first time described the incidence and causes of paediatric injury in Australia, using data from over half a million hospitalisation and mortality records. She and her team have also assessed processes of care and associated outcomes for 535 severely injured children in NSW, as well as conducting a two-year study to determine what aspects of care patients feel could improve their experience and wellbeing. The team have been able to bring their research to the attention of the federal government, with Health Minister Greg Hunt just last month signing off on a national injury prevention plan.

Finally, Associate Professor Lisa Wood, from the University of Western Australia, was awarded for improving the health of homeless people.

Assoc Prof Wood leads a rapidly growing program of research and collaboration with homelessness organisations across WA and Victoria. Her team has developed the largest database of linked homelessness and health data in Australia, linking hospital records for 3400 homeless patients to other homeless, housing and police data to glean insights into predictors of homelessness, the effectiveness of interventions and the barriers to delivering policies and services that work. Her team recently generated several case studies and a report outlining the benefits of a street health service that was about to close due to lack of funds — and received media coverage and philanthropic funding as a result.

The winners were presented with their awards by Professor Anne Kelso AO, CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council, at a ceremony in Sydney on 28 November. They were also congratulated by Sax Institute Deputy CEO Dr Martin McNamara, who said their exemplary work demonstrated how research can help transform our health systems and policies and improve health and wellbeing.

“A common thread across all three winners is that they have not been content to simply publish their research, but have become powerful advocates for better health care in their particular areas, actively engaging policymakers at all levels,” Dr McNamara said.

“In one case, alarmed that new policy was about to be created that flew in the face of her findings, one of our award winners [Assoc Prof Abbott] went so far as to write to then US President Barack Obama — a contact that helped trigger an invitation to address US policymakers and produce meaningful policy change.”

Professor Nick Mays, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, served as the chairman of the independent assessment committee that chose the winners. He said this year’s field of applicants was “among the strongest yet”, with many applicants demonstrating “great personal commitment and persistence” in conducting their research and advocating for its uptake into policy.

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