Port Waratah invests $300,000 into Hunter region’s medical research capability

Dec 8 2020

The region’s health and medical researchers and local people will benefit from a new partnership between Port Waratah Coal Services (Port Waratah), Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Hunter New England Local Health District.

Port Waratah has invested more than $300,000 over four years, from its Community Investment Partnership Programme, to part fund a new clinical informatics project with HMRI. The project and role are strategically based within Hunter New England Health.  It will help researchers and clinicians to efficiently unlock and interpret the wealth of existing health system data. HMRI is using its Strategic Infrastructure Fund to part fund the role.

Peter Mastello is the region’s new clinical informatician. Mr Mastello has years of experience working within NSW local health districts in informatics and data management. A pharmacist originally, he has a Masters of Information Technology from the University of Newcastle. 

Mr Mastello said the health system is data rich and information poor. He said extracting good health data benefits both patients and community by building the capacity of researchers.  Across HMRI, the University of Newcastle and the Hunter New England Health it will support a broad range of clinical research and accelerate translational research that improves health care, health systems, and patient outcomes.

One of Mr Mastello’s priorities will be linking data across disparate and unconnected databases and finding patterns in clinical data sets. Mr Mastello said the use of big data, “clinical informatics”, is rapidly growing across Australia and the world.

“By making aggregated and anonymous patient data more available, researchers and clinicians can identify new clusters of disease and answer important questions to improve the health of our communities,” Mr Mastello said.

“Accessing data that already exists can save researchers and funders time and money.

“The data and trend analysis will also help HMRI, researchers, clinicians, and health service leaders to identify research priorities.”

Port Waratah CEO, Hennie du Plooy, said that this project is invaluable to the Hunter community because it builds the region’s capacity to support clinical and health service research.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project is facilitating researchers’ and clinicians access to rich healthcare data, allowing them to plot changes in health trends and follow up patient care long term, or identify opportunities for local patients to benefit from and assist with research,” Mr du Plooy said.

“HMRI is a leading research organisation with a proven track record, not just in this region, but nationally and internationally,” he said.

“There’s an economic benefit to the region by Port Waratah investing in research capability and having infrastructure to attract and retain the top researchers here in our region.

“Our Community Investment and Partnership Programme aims to work in partnership with our community to make Newcastle, and more broadly our region, smarter, resilient and more sustainable.”

HMRI Interim Director, Professor Mike Calford, said that investment by Port Waratah is a significant boost to research infrastructure. Professor Calford said it supports that HMRI, Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle have in place to attract and support researchers and position the region as a global leader in translational research. He said clinical informatics also has the potential to encourage private sector investment in research, such as pharmaceutical companies investing in drug trials in the Hunter.

Port Waratah also supports research into asthma and physical activity. The Port Waratah funded Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program won the Benefiting Society category of the Australasian Green Gown Awards on November 26. That program was also a finalist in the Engagement Australia Excellence Awards.

“Our partnerships with the business community are vital in gaining other funding to offer hope and find answers that save lives,” Professor Calford said.

Port Waratah owns and manages two coal terminals at Kooragang and Carrington and is part of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Local Health District and the community.