After 14 years as Director of Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, and serving as the Interim CEO of the National Heart Foundation, Professor Garry Jennings AO recently took the reins as Executive Director at Sydney Health Partners.
Below Professor Jennings outlines why he was drawn to Sydney Health Partners, why Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres are so important, and his vision for the future of the Partnership.
What is Sydney Health Partners all about?
As an Advanced Health Research and Translation Centre, Sydney Health Partners can cross the barriers in the research process between discovery, translation and, ultimately, implementation into our health system. Our focus is on improving the health of our patients and community, and we have an opportunity to really engage with them to ensure we are addressing their needs.
Through a partnership like Sydney Health Partners we can add real value to the health system through cooperation and collaboration across our Partner organisations. We can apply and learn from the diversity of skills, expertise and knowledge amongst us to focus on how we can address and overcome the issues our health system faces – and match health care delivery to the evidence base.
Another advantage to a collaborative partnership like Sydney Health Partners is that we can do things on a bigger scale, speeding up and intensifying innovation in the delivery of health care.
What attracted you to Sydney Health Partners?
The pace of discovery in health research today now demands a mix of agility and scale, and I believe Sydney is one of the few places in our region with the potential to be a real player. Sydney Health Partners covers a vast and diverse area, serving a significant population of 2.7 million people. Within this area there are some of the worst and some of the best health indicators in the country. Smoking rates, for example, range from 7% in the more affluent area to 27% elsewhere - much lower and higher respectively than the national average. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity, and this is something I look forward to addressing through our Partnership.
I also believe that universities, medical research institutes and health services - like our local health districts here in the NSW health system - bring different things to the table when it comes to translational research. We have a healthy mix of each in our Partnership base, and each plays an important role in helping to translate medical research into the health system. Above all, there is a demonstrable commitment to the Partnership led by our health service Partners - the Sydney, Northern Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health Districts and the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network - with the strong engagement and support of the University of Sydney and our medical research institute Partners.
Can you explain what translational research is and why it is important?
Translational research means different things to different people. In its broadest sense, translational research is about taking a discovery to the final stage of implementation into the health system to improve public health. Simply put, this is making sure that the outcomes of health and medical research are used to benefit patients and the community, and that clinical practice is aligned with the evidence base.
Sydney Health Partners has expertise and a track record in every stage of translation from fundamental discovery to implementation into the public health system. One of our key strengths is the role of our health service partners in providing an opportunity for high level implementation research that really makes a difference.
Why does a partnership like Sydney Health Partners matter to patients and the community? How will it benefit them?
My experience in indigenous health research has taught me how consumer driven research can bring immediate benefits to the community. It is about working hand in hand with the community to identify and address the issues that are important to their health. This approach to research overcomes many common barriers to implementation and is more effective at meeting the real needs of the community. In my view this needs to become the norm in health research and innovation, and it is a key priority area that I will pursue through Sydney Health Partners.
In a direct sense a partnership like Sydney Health Partners can also enable us to identify the gaps across the catchments served by our partners and work to fill these gaps to improve the health of our patients and community. There are bound to be things that are done extremely well amongst our Partner organisations and others that we can improve on. This diversity can be used to identify and understand these gaps, learn from each other and help lift each other to a higher level.
Why does it matter to clinicians and researchers? How will it benefit them?
I know from personal experience that researchers can become frustrated with the different processes across different research institutions, as well as duplication and redundancy. These are things that can be harmonised under Sydney Health Partners.
Science is also getting bigger and health research is no exception. This includes bigger study populations, bigger infrastructure and bigger data. The scale of Sydney Health Partners provides the opportunity for individual research groups and their institutions to grow within their means through partnering together, and engaging with disciplines and expertise outside their usual domain and comfort zone. It is about offering our Partners more than what they can achieve alone.
Many important steps in improving public health into the future will come from outside mainstream health research – be it the social and physical sciences, engineering, information technology, economics or the law. Through our university Partner, the University of Sydney, we can provide clinicians and researchers with access to these disciplines, and address health at a whole of society level.
What kind of an impact can Sydney Health Partners have?
Most of the impact Sydney Health Partners will have will be demonstrated through the achievements of our Partner organisations – be it more relevant science and bigger grants to the research institutions; more agile and better supported clinicians; bigger teams and more consistent practices across the Partnership.
Some of this work will seem invisible from the outside including the most important, and somewhat elusive, target of all-creating a culture of innovation with a focus on the health of the whole community, and world class excellence in everything we do. This is the kind impact I want Sydney Health Partners to have.
What do you want to see Sydney Health Partners achieve in the next three years?