Western NSW Research Network Conference

Advocating for more research funding to improve rural health outcomes.

Funding, resources and the future of rural health research was discussed by key health research bodies in Orange on the 16-17 August at the Western NSW Health Research Network (WHRN) conference.

The Western NSW Health Research Network (WHRN) is the peak body for health research in Western NSW. WHRN was established in 2013 and has over 250 members. WHRN is a collaboration between four universities, the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD), the Western NSW Primary Health Network, community managed organisations and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs).

The 5th WHRN conference, titled ‘Celebrating research partnerships in the bush,’ was held at the University of Sydney School of Rural Health campus and at Charles Sturt University.

During the two-day conference, keynote addresses were presented by Tony Penna, Executive Director, Office for Health and Medical Research, NSW Ministry of Health; Scott McLachlan, Chief Executive, Western NSW Local Health District; Sally Redman, Professor Sally Redman AO, Chief Executive Officer, Sax Institute; Professor Garry Jennings AO, Executive Director, Sydney Health Partners; and Sabina Knight, Director, Mount Isa Centre for Rural & Remote Health.

“Health research has a direct influence on improving health outcomes and reducing health inequalities in our rural communities.” said Dr Alice Munro, Deputy Chair of WHRN and Research Manager for WNSWLHD.

“Addressing the health inequality experienced by rural and remote Australians is a stated aim of the Australian Government. While National Health and Medical Research Council funding for rural health research has increased over the past decade, at 2.4% by value, it still appears very low given the extent of the health burden faced by the 30% who live in rural Australia.

“We welcomed the attendance of key research organisations who came to our conference to listen and talk to rural health researchers and clinicians about the importance of building research capacity in Western NSW” Dr Munro said.

To improve access to research activities across Western NSW, Western NSW Local Health District live-streamed the conference on Day 2 to nine health facilities at Brewarrina, Broken Hill, Cobar, Condobolin, Cowra, Dubbo, Forbes, Mudgee and Orange.

The launch of Western NSW Local Health District’s first Research Strategy was also a feature of the WHRN conference. This strategy maps WNSWLHDs vision for embedding a vibrant research culture over the next four years to ensure healthier rural people in Western NSW communities.

Three 2018 Western NSW Health Research awards were also presented at a dinner, recognising the hard work of dedicated clinicians and academics from the region. The award winners were:

  1. Dr Georgina Luscombe – Health Academic Research Leader of the Year. Georgina is not only an active investigator with a strong track record, she is also a strong collaborator in many research projects in Western NSW. Georgina provides teaching, supervision and support to a range of people interested in learning and undertaking research in the District. Her excellent work ensures a high standard of scientific and statistical rigour in the wide range of research studies that she initiates and supports through her teaching and supervision.
  2. Catherine Bourke – Emerging Researcher of the Year. Catherine, a graduate from the 2013 Rural Research Capacity Building Program (RRCBP), won the Report Award for her cohort, and has presented her findings on Autism diagnosis internationally. Catherine has been influential in improving service delivery in relation to Autism diagnosis and management in Western NSW since graduating from the RRCBP. Catherine has contributed as an Emerging Researcher by mentoring other candidates in the RRCBP, and through her recent contributions to the Greater Western Human Research Ethics Committee
  3. Dr Matt Thomas – Clinical Research Leader of the Year. Matt has been a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Bloomfield hospital since 2012 and is an Adjunct Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at Charles Sturt University. In addition to his clinical role at Bloomfield, he works with colleagues locally, interstate and overseas in four separate clinical research groups. Dr Thomas led the CIRCuiTS implementation trial at Orange, in the roles of Chief Investigator, Clinical Trainer and Supervisor. CIRCuiTS is a cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) program for adults with schizophrenia in both inpatient and community mental health settings in Orange. This project was WNSWLHDs first successful Translational Research Grant Scheme awarded in 2016.