Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Mar-Apl 2012 Contents THE NATIONAL HEALTH and
Medical Research Council
(NHMRC) has awarded up to $25
million to a new form of research
partnership to tackle the issues
around 'dealing with cognitive
and related functional decline in
In an Australian first, the
research agenda will be
established and led by a
collaboration of three aged
care providers with Alzheimer's
Australia, working with a
multidisciplinary team of
researchers, policy makers and
people working in the sector, to
ensure the research priorities are
established from the perspective
of the system, the end
practitioners and consumers.
Touted in the media release
as Australia's first 'Partnership
Centre for better dementia
outcomes', the new centre will
have funding of up to $5 million
per year over the next five years;
up to $2.5 million of which is
being provided by the NHMRC.
The remaining funding -- both
cash and in-kind contributions --
will come from the four partner
Australia; Brightwater Care
Group in Western Australia;
HammondCare Group in New
South Wales; and Helping Hand
Aged Care in South Australia.
This Partnership Centre is the
first of six centres expected to be
announced in the first half of this
year, each targeting different key
A NEW APPROACH
The architect of this new research
direction for the NHMRC is
eminent international health
policy and services researcher,
Professor Jonathan Lomas.
Prof Lomas' main interest, and
the area in which he has an
international reputation, is the role
and impact of research evidence
in health services and systems
He was employed by the
NHMRC in the position of
'knowledge broker' to develop the
Partnership Centre program and
oversee their establishment.
Prof Lomas said what made
this initiative different to traditional
research was that the research
priorities would be established
from the perspective of the
people working and practicing in
the sector itself.
Likewise, the research
work itself will be conducted
jointly involving both traditional
academics, and people working
in the field and dealing with the
real issues day-to-day.
"The big difference here,"
said Prof Lomas, "is that, as
opposed to the usual model
where researchers develop an
idea and test it and try to sell it to
the people in the system, this is
an approach where you sit down
together -- and where the people
who work in the field get to say,
'These are the problems and this
is what we want to see done'.
"It's a partnership between
the people who are doing [the
research] and the people who use
it," he explains. "So it mandates
the research to be packaged in a
way that it is relevant."
Prof Lomas said while the
approach was new in Australia,
the partnerships model had
already reaped international
success in Canada, the UK and
the Netherlands, and was currently
being adopted in the United States.
"The first over the barricade
gets the spear in the stomach! So
there are some lessons that have
been learned and that will benefit
the experience in Australia. But
it's still a very new model."
While the announcement was
made by Minister for Health,
Tanya Plibersek and Minister for
Mental Health, Ageing and Social
Inclusion, Mark Butler, on Christmas
Eve last year, all the details of the
project are yet to be finalised.
The partner organisations will
have their first formal meeting
together, and with Professor Lomas
and others, after the time of writing.
Research manager from
Alzheimer's Australia, Dr Chris
Hatherly, said details around
governance, the way the
partnerships would function, and
the key work area priorities would
all be established at the meeting.
"The way these centres are
set up is quite complicated,"
Dr Hatherly said. "The Centre is
overseen by a governance board
involving representation from the
NHMRC and each of the four
"The governance board is
setting the scope for the work.
What they have done now is
call for expressions of interest
from research teams, which
are due in mid-February. That
process doesn't look at the work
content -- just the experience and
"We are looking at 12 lead
investigators to manage the whole
$25 million worth of research over
the five years. The teams will be
a hybrid of academic researchers
and system-based people
working within the sector. As
funding partners we have the
right to nominate people as part
of that team."
Dr Hatherly said the research
team would be appointed quickly
-- by late February or early March
-- and a five-year work plan would
be decided upon by the middle
of the year.
"We will be pushing hard for a
high level of consumer involvement.
The National Quality Dementia
Care initiative has consumers
making recommendations and we
want to ensure a similar high level
of consumer involvement in this
Dr Penny Flett, CEO of
Brightwater Care in Western
Australia, said the opportunity
for Brightwater to be part of the
collaboration was 'irresistible'.
"To play a part in something
that could make such a huge
difference for years to come is
irresistible," Dr Flett said.
"It's a once in a generation
opportunity to do something that
is immensely valuable and in an
area where everyone is affected
in some way."
Dr Flett said one area she
would like to see addressed was
that of family carers.
"Family carers are people who
live with dementia as well and
the impact on them is enormous.
So I think it is really important to
include all of their needs to too."
Dr Flett also stressed the
partnership would look at all forms
of cognitive and related decline in
the elderly, not just dementia.
"There are a lot of
neurological problems that often
go unnoticed and fall between
the cracks," she said.
"They're square pegs ---
they don't fit health, they don't
fit aged care, they don't fit
14 | MARCH -- APRIL 2012 | AAA
and cognitive decline
The federal government quietly announced a
seismic event for aged care services research,
policy and practice late last year. Keryn Curtis
discusses the details of the announcement and
explains how the project will break new ground.
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