New Funding to Improve Region's Heart Health

Sep 4 2020

Each year in the Hunter New England (HNE) region, over 900 people experience their first heart attack, placing HNE within NSW’s highest cardiovascular disease mortality band.

In an effort to reduce the region’s risk of heart disease, researchers from NSW Regional Health Partners (NSWRHP) including the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Hunter New England Health have been awarded a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant of over $1 million.

The three-year project, led by University of Newcastle-based Professor Clare Collins, will explore the cost-effectiveness of integrated evidence-based models of medical nutrition therapy (MNT) delivery in rural and regional primary healthcare in partnership with the primary health network and University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health.

MNT provided by Accredited Practising Dietitians is used to treat specific chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, through the use of individually-tailored nutrition support and counselling.

Professor Collins said this project would improve the way people accessed dietitians by working with GPs and primary care providers to test telehealth models of care to reduce the inequities faced by regional and rural communities.

“If you live in the regional and rural areas of Hunter New England, then you are 20-30% more likely to have heart disease,” she said.

“We know that if we could support people at higher risk of heart disease then their risk would drop. But if you live in these areas, the dietitian workforce is 25% smaller per head of population compared to cities.”

The results of the study will contribute to lowering diet-related heart disease risk in the community and help GPs to support their patients to improve nutrition-related health, allowing for better identification of those who need additional measures such as medication.

Results will also inform policy and practice related to nutrition and heart disease across Australia and provide an important return on the research investment.

University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Janet Nelson, said the funding success will harness the capabilities of the University’s talented academics to improve health outcomes for regional communities.

“Contributing to better, healthier living outcomes in our regions is a key priority for our University,” Professor Nelson said.

“I congratulate Professor Collins and her research team on this great success and am confident their valuable work will continue to improve lives.”

HMRI Institute Director Professor Tom Walley highlighted the importance of this important preventative health research. “Improving health outcomes for complex and chronic diseases, particularly for people in rural and regional areas, is an urgent priority. With this funding, the team will now be able to work to deliver support directly to those who need it, through telehealth and novel technologies.”

The research team comprises:

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) – Primary Health Care Research Initiative aims to support an increase in Australia’s evidence base in primary health care through research to improve service delivery and patient outcomes.

NSWRHP is one of nine health research translation centres across Australia that together form the Australian Health Research Alliance.

The MRFF funding builds on Professor Collins’ commitment to improving the world's food and nutrition related health, using smart technologies.