Academic journal article Australian Health Review

The Impact of the Research Methods Support Structure on Research Capacity in Rural New South Wales

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

The Impact of the Research Methods Support Structure on Research Capacity in Rural New South Wales

Article excerpt


Objective: This paper evaluates a Research Methods Support Structure (RMSS) to foster research capacity in the New England region of rural New South Wales.

Methods: A quasi-experimental design with a historical control for comparing changes in the number of research submissions and research approval rates since the RMSS inception in July 1998 until December 2004.

Results: Comparing the two reporting periods, the total number of research submissions increased from 58 to 197, or 9 per year to 30 per year (odds ratio [OR], 3.33; 95% CI, 1.15-9.90; χ^sub 2^ = 5.06; P = 0.02); and the total number of ethics approvals increased from 33 to 145, or 5 per year to 22 per year (OR, 2.11; 95% CI, 1.10-4.06; χ^sup 2^ = 5.17; P = 0.02). Submissions were 2.11 times more likely to receive ethics approval after the inception of the RMSS, with an increase in overall approval rates from 57% to 74%. Locally based rural researchers were 4.89 times more likely to have their submitted research ultimately approved after the inception of the research methods support structure (OR, 4.89; 95% CI, 2.11-11.41; χ^sup 2^ = 16.06; P < 0.001).

Discussion: This evaluation supports an expansion of research methods support structures to increase research capacity in rural Australia.

Aust Health Rev 2006: 30(4): 427-434

HUMAN RESEARCH ETHICS COMMITTEES (HRECs) have a legislated duty to protect the wellbeing of research participants.1 HRECs must balance this duty against ensuring protection of the rights of society and researchers. Local HREC input is vital to ensure human health research is conducted in compliance with the national statement on the ethical conduct of human research.1,2 At times, research approved in an urban setting will be validly rejected on ethical grounds by a local rural research ethics committee.2 Often the proposal will not recognise the logistics of translating the research from an urban setting to a smaller or cross-cultural population.3,4 A research project may be scientifically and ethically valid but ignore the logistics of implementation within a different setting. For example, shortages of personnel or equipment within a rural region may mean the local HREC decides that a project ethically should not proceed.

There is considerable criticism of local HRECs for delaying health care research, adding to the cost, creating barriers to research5,6 and potentially delaying protection of the public health of the community or treatment of a disease.7 This criticism fails to recognise that often delays in ethics approval are caused by poorly completed applications with insufficient details to address privacy laws and the national statement on human research.1

There is a limited amount of published rural health research,8,9 and there are increasing efforts to enhance rural health research capacity. Work with researchers to improve research capacity, skills and output is required. Negotiation with HRECs can be a major hurdle for novice researchers developing new research projects. Before 1998, the amount of health research undertaken in the New England region of New South Wales was limited. Most research submitted for ethics approval was clinical (45%) and educational (36%). Population health and public health research comprised only 19% of proposals. This was a significant omission, as the New England region has significant public health needs characterised by excess premature mortality from preventable diseases such as heart disease and suicide.10

This paper describes and evaluates the research methods support structure (RMSS) that was established to address the issues limiting rural research. The RMSS became a compulsory stage of the research submission process in the New England region, with peer review of research submissions for ethical and research methodological issues before HREC submission. The RMSS provided expertise and advice for researchers to assist them in their submissions. …

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