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HRB invests in UCC research to address national health care priorities

13 Nov 2023
Photo (L-R): Dr Linda O’Keefe, Professor Tony Foley, Dr Ruth McCullagh. Image credit: Ruben Martinez (UCC).
  • UCC researchers awarded a combined €700,000 funding in Health Research Board Applied Programme awards.
  • The projects will address key national public health priorities.
  • UCC researchers will lead projects that aim to drive a step change in practice and improve population health outcomes.

A community-based falls management exercise programme, improved care for chronic diseases and a new referral process for patients with suspected dementia from general practice to specialist care have been awarded funding from the Health Research Board’s Applied Partnership Awards.

Three researchers at UCC’s College of Medicine and Health have received a total of €700,000 in funding to address national health care priorities for those who need them most.

Dr Ruth McCullagh, Lecturer in the Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of Clinical Therapies, has received €240,000 in research funding to roll out FaME (Falls Management Exercise), an evidence-based falls prevention programme for older people, in Ireland. Over a third of those aged 65 and older fall each year, and research has proven that exercise, including strength and balance training, is key to reducing falls.

The FaME programme, developed by Professor Dawn Skelton at Glasgow Caledonian University, a co-co-principal investigator on this project, differs from many exercise programmes in that it has proven to reduce falls. First introduced in Ireland in 2021, this study will determine the best route to delivering and implementing FaME into the Irish healthcare system. The programme will be led by specialist trained physiotherapists and exercise instructors, training 120 specialist instructors in Ireland to deliver FaME next year.

"Falls are common in later life. They can limit independence, lead to social isolation, injury and hospitalisation. The good news is that exercise can prevent falls, but not just any exercise programme. We aim to get a proven, established falls-prevention exercise programme, up and running in Ireland. FaME enables older people to get up, stay up, and live their best lives. Our aim is to link the programme with existing healthcare services, to reach everyone who may fall, and to find enjoyable activities to stay independent after the programme. We will work with people who have completed the programme, their families, healthcare providers and international partners," said Dr McCullagh.

The HRB Applied Partnership Awards scheme aims to support applied research projects in which researchers and knowledge users come together to advance timely and relevant research and optimise knowledge translation into policy and practice. The award requires a joint application encompassing both researchers and knowledge users.

The three funded UCC researchers are:

  • Professor Tony Foley, Department of General Practice, School of Medicine: The development and evaluation of a referral guideline for referring patients with suspected cognitive impairment or dementia from general practice to secondary care. This project will design a referral guideline for General Practitioners (GPs) that can be used to help GPs to correctly refer patients with suspected dementia on to specialist hospital-based colleagues. GPs need this guidance to deliver optimal care for people with dementia, helping patients to receive their diagnosis of dementia in a timely manner and so for them to access supports after diagnosis. Funding amount: €227,839
  • Dr Ruth McCullagh, Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of Clinical Therapies: Falls Management Exercise Programme: Improving Reach, Effectiveness, Value and Sustainability in Ireland. FaME is a community-based falls management exercise programme. The six-month long project, led by specialist trained physiotherapists and exercise instructors, will investigate the best way to set up and effectively implement FaME in the Irish healthcare system. Funding amount: €239,997
  • Dr Linda O’Keefe, School of Public Health: What next? Priority setting and future proofing for chronic condition prevention and management in Ireland: The Future-Proof study. Future-Proof is a partnership of the senior decision makers in the health service that are implementing the Sláintecare plan, researchers from different academic disciplines, and Public Patient Involvement (PPI) partners who will together design options for how Ireland can provide better care for neurological conditions (e.g., dementia, Parkinson’s disease), mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety) and rheumatological conditions (e.g., arthritis, osteoporosis) in the future. Funding amount: €240,000

Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll, HRB Chief Executive, said: "The Applied Programme Awards are designed to bring knowledge users and researchers together to develop research projects that address a specific need within the Irish health or social care system. They are a cornerstone in the HRB strategy to invest in research that delivers value for the health system, society, and the economy. These latest ten awards bring to 42 the total number of awards made under this scheme since it began in 2016."

Professor Helen Whelton, Head of College of Medicine and Health, congratulated the researchers on securing this highly competitive funding, enabling them to collaborate with health services. She expressed the significance of these projects, stating, "These initiatives exemplify the vast potential of the academic-service partnership fostered by an Academic Health Sciences System. Supported by the HRB Applied Programme Awards, they aim to benefit the health and welfare of patients and the public by applying new scientific knowledge, enhancing services and improving patient outcomes in the targeted communities."

Professor John F. Cryan, UCC Vice President for Research and Innovation, said: "Congratulations to our three UCC recipients of a HRB Applied Programme award. These projects will address and enhance critical health care challenges in Ireland. I look forward to seeing these projects rapidly implemented into policy and practice in the Irish healthcare system."

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