A healthcare partnership that aligns clinicians and researchers across the Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast districts of NSW has been accredited by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) as one of Australia’s first Centres for Innovation in Regional Health.

The prestigious nomination, announced today by Federal Assistant Health Minister Dr David Gillespie, recognises the strength of the NSW Regional Health Partners alliance and positions the CIRH to implement translational research for the benefit of rural and regional communities.

Visiting the Hunter Medical Research Institute, Dr David Gillespie also announced a seed grant of $225,000 to NSW Regional Health Partners under the Medical Research Future Fund’s $10 million Rapid Applied Research Translation program.

“These announcements all relate to the Government’s focus on ensuring that patients receive the benefits of health and medical research, as quickly as possible,” Minister Gillespie said.

“Making healthcare more effective for people is the aim of all health and medical research, and these developments ensure that the Hunter and regional NSW is right at the forefront of this trend.”

The accreditation as a CIRH was based on the research hub’s achievements in health and medical research, research translation, research-infused education and training, and outstanding health care in a regional and/or remote setting.

“The aim of CIRHs is to encourage leadership in health research and translation of direct relevance and benefit to regional and remote areas of Australia,” Minister Gillespie added.

“As a rural doctor myself, I am particularly pleased by the CIRH initiative. This new focus on regions in research is a big step forward, and meshes with other reforms the Government has under way to boost rural and regional health.”

The seed funding to the CIRH will allow it to engage nationally and position itself for future investment under the MRFF.

Research hub members include three neighbouring Local Health Districts, the Universities of Newcastle and New England, HMRI, Calvary Mater Hospital and the Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network. Its footprint across NSW comprises 6% of the Australian population and 35% of the State’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

In a joint statement, research hub partner organisation Chief Executives, Vice Chancellors and Executive Director said the decision was of tremendous importance for millions of Australians living outside capital cities.

“We thank the NHMRC for recognising our strength in innovative research and acknowledging the unique challenges that face health service providers and researchers in regional, rural and remote Australia,” the executive statement read.

“Being an NHMRC Centre for Innovation in Regional Health will help us improve healthcare equity in regional health in a way that’s unprecedented in this country. We are poised to truly integrate biomedical research, population health prevention strategies and healthcare provision, with a flow-on to all Australians.”

The Centre will be able to capitalise on a cross-disciplinary management structure developed since the research hub’s establishment in 2014. It aims to deliver genuine “value-adding” and “silo-breaking” programs for projects including obesity prevention, enhanced diabetes management and acute stroke telemedicine.

The research hub has previously received national and international recognition for achievements in integrated care and population health, among others.

“We are now poised to accelerate and expand our delivery of innovative, regional models of healthcare – supported by a highly engaged senior health service management, and driven by patient and clinician need,” said the partner organisations. “We will support and facilitate measurable improvements in the healthcare systems and apply academic rigour to both prevent disease and to improve the patient journey from diagnosis to treatment to recovery.”

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