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Leading UNSW Sydney medical researchers have received three out of the six new HCF Research Foundation grants announced this week.

The six grant recipients, who received more than $1 million in funding, will address key healthcare issues in palliative care, mental health, risks for premature babies and the optimisation of registry data to improve patient outcomes.

Dr Magnolia Cardona, from UNSW Medicine and South Western Sydney Clinical School, will assess records from more than 500 general practitioners to determine if there is sufficient information to characterise the profile of older people at risk of death. The team will then investigate GP views on barriers and possibilities for end-of-life discussions at primary care, to ultimately support GPs to recognise and discuss the end of life needs and preferences of an ageing population.

“We plan to assess the feasibility of using a risk prediction tool in general practice that can estimate an older person’s risk of death in next three months,” Dr Cardona said. “The aim is to build confidence in the prognosis and assist GPs in initiating sensitive end-of-life conversations to help patients better understand treatment choices and where they would prefer to die.

“In Australia the GP is a primary point of contact and care for older people; the doctor knows them well and is in the best position to start these sensitive conversations and ensure smooth advance care planning.”

End-of-life care will also be the focus for Dr Ursula Sansom-Daly, who will explore the need for more frequent discussions for adolescents and young adults with life-limiting illnesses such as cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Dr Sansom-Daly, from UNSW Medicine and the School of Women's & Children's Health, will use the funding to support clinicians with the skills and confidence to have challenging end-of-life conversations with young people. Without age-appropriate interventions this cohort was at risk of poor quality-of-life outcomes, such as anxiety, inadequate pain management, dying in a state of ‘emotional isolation’ and dying in hospital against their wishes, Dr Sansom-Daly said.

In an Australian first, Dr Sansom-Daly’s research will evaluate an internationally developed tool called Voicing My CHOiCES to ensure its appropriateness, feasibility and ability to meet the psychosocial needs of young Australians. Dr Sansom-Daly’s research will also investigate barriers and facilitators to best-practice end-of-life communication in hospital settings.

We’re pleased the recipients of this year’s grants are tackling pervasive healthcare issues.

In a different field, Professor Kei Lui, from the UNSW School of Women's and Children's Health and the Royal Hospital for Women, will use his grant to focus on maximising clinical registry data to identify knowledge gaps, capture variances in outcomes and benchmark performance and best practices that will improve outcomes for preterm babies.

Professor Lui will strengthen the evaluation process for very premature babies born before 32 weeks who are at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome and chronic health problems including asthma, cognitive delay and vision impairment.

Using the clinical registry data from the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network, Professor Lui’s research will implement quarterly data analyses of mortality and major morbidities at hospital discharge, with the goal of aligning best practices for babies in NICU to reduce adverse events that may have life-long impacts.

HCF Research Foundation Chair Lisa McIntyre said this year’s grants highlighted the major issues that impact patient outcomes in Australia.

“We’re pleased the recipients of this year’s grants are tackling pervasive healthcare issues,” McIntyre said. "Our funded researchers have identified opportunities to improve end-of-life care and communication, support the mental health of Australian health professionals, and optimise clinical registry data to improve patient outcomes. These topical healthcare issues present an opportunity for us to work collaboratively to find solutions that will benefit not just HCF members, but patients and health professionals across Australia.”