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Press Release

Press release

Health Research Board invests €9 million in new research leaders

8 January 2014

22 new research jobs in the pipeline as a result of the new initiative.

The Health Research Board (HRB) has appointed six new HRB Research Leaders as part of an €9 million investment to address strategic gaps and leadership capacity in population health and health services research in Ireland. All of the research programmes are specifically focused on delivering relevant and timely evidence that can be used in health care decision-making and are designed in consultation with leading healthcare decision makers.

Many of the research programmes are addressing areas which have traditionally been under-funded, but are crucial, such as health economics and biostatistics. All the research leaders will create a solid foundation of expertise and evidence to deliver better health, reduced health care costs and new approaches to care that benefit patients, care providers and the economy.

Teresa Maguire, Head of Population Health and Health Services Research at the HRB says,

'The HRB Research Leaders Awards represent a significant investment to ensure that the health research community in Ireland is in a position to provide strong research and evidence in relation to current, emerging and often complex challenges in healthcare that are of concern to decision makers, practitioners and policy makers.

This funding for leaders at a senior level complements other investments made by the HRB in the last four years at early and mid-career level. The awards will also create 22 new research jobs as the HRB Research Leaders grow their existing teams to support the work programmes'.

The six new HRB Research Leaders will deliver research programmes which will:

  • Develop an internationally recognised research group focusing on the design and evaluation of effective behavioural interventions that will improve our health.
  • Focus on the need to maximise prevention and treatment strategies for the increasing numbers living with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
  • Assess the impact of online psychological interventions for people with multiple illnesses including chronic pain.
  • Improve the national infrastructure to be able to accurately count and compare the costs and cost effectiveness of non-acute health services in Ireland.
  • Assess the costs and benefits of personalised healthcare interventions to assist decision making in a time of resource constraints.
  • Use mathematical modelling and statistical techniques to interrogate large health information datasets to improve decision making in relation to provision of health care interventions.

A summary of each of the HRB Research Leader programmes is outlined below.

Dr Molly Byrne, Lecturer and Health Psychologist, NUI, Galway, aims to lead an internationally recognised research group focusing on the design and evaluation of behavioural interventions, to improve health outcomes. The focus will be behaviours related to diabetes and heart disease in the first instance.

'In Ireland, as is the case internationally, an increasing number of the healthcare problems we face are linked to our behaviour. There is powerful evidence that changing people's health-related behaviour for example, smoking, poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, failure to screen for illness and risky sexual practice, can impact positively on leading causes of mortality and morbidity, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes'.

Molly's team will develop expertise, capacity and practice in behaviour change intervention approaches in order to positively influence people's health-related behaviours.  The work will support the efforts of research teams, health services and government bodies by ensuring behavioural theory and evidence are used to enhance the effectiveness of interventions and policies that encourage people to change their health-related behaviour.

Dr Byrne will work in partnership with the National Clinical Care Programme in Diabetes, the HSE Health and Social Care Professions Education and Development  Unit and University College London's Centre for Behaviour Change.

Professor Patricia Kearney, Research Professor at University College Cork will work in partnership with the National Clinical Care Programme in Diabetes to improve patient care and reduce the preventable clinical, financial and societal burden of Diabetes.

According to Prof Kearney, 'Diabetes is a common, disabling and deadly condition. In Ireland it is estimated that nearly one in 10 adults have diabetes, many of whom are undiagnosed.  Currently diabetes costs the state almost €580 million per annum and this will rise significantly in coming decades. Given the stated changes to move more care of diabetes into primary care, this programme of work will address specific gaps by determining the real prevalence and incidence of diabetes in Ireland, define the costs of current care models and develop a lifestyle intervention for prevention of diabetes during pregnancy'.

Dr Brian McGuire, Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychology, NUI, Galway will research and deliver new psychological approaches to treat people living with multi-morbidities -  which is a number of physical symptoms or disease occurring at the same time, such as arthritis, depression and chronic pain.

The first step in Dr McGuire's research will be to identify the number of people in Ireland who have multimorbidity, where chronic pain is a feature and what this costs. The second step is to develop and test a range of psychological interventions for people with chronic pain in the context of their other medical conditions and evaluate the impact of these interventions.

There is evidence to show that psychological interventions, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can effectively complement medical treatment in treating psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression as well as being effective for treating physical symptoms like fatigue and chronic pain.

Dr McGuire explains, 'In Ireland access to these treatments is scarce, with few people able to avail of the treatment. We aim to develop new ways to offer psychological treatments using online, mobile phone technology and social media. We would hope that if these approaches are successful, they would have the potential to 'go viral' and benefit large numbers of people worldwide, not just in Ireland'.

Prof Ciaran O Neill, Professor of Health Economics at NUI, Galway, will build and analyse a series of databases that will substantively improve health services research infrastructure in Ireland. The databases will provide a clear picture of unit costs for non-acute services in Ireland, the quality of GP services, the quality of designated care facilities (including those for individuals with learning disabilities) and of patient preferences for various levels of health.

'By developing and demonstrating the usefulness of this infrastructure my vision is that we can create new avenues of research that have been neglected to date. For example, the combined force of these databases will now let us participate in cross country comparisons of costs, outcomes and cost-effectiveness studies. They will also provide economic information for the research policy and practice community that has until now been unavailable. This is especially the case for provision of cost information for non-hospital care and patient preference measures, which has inhibited economic analysis for primary and community care', explains Prof O Neill.

Prof O Neill will work with wide range of national and international collaborators. These include the Irish Primary Care Research Network, HIQA, the Personal Social Services Research Unit and the Office of Health Economics in the UK as well as Euro-QoL, a European Group set up to develop a standardised instrument to measure non disease specific health related Quality of Life (QoL).

Professor Cathal Walsh, Professor in Statistics at Trinity College Dublin, will establish the National Centre for Health Decision Science in Ireland. Using mathematical models, he and his team will interrogate large datasets of health information to determine the best health-related interventions to adopt to achieve the best outcome for the patient, as well as taking account of the economic impact. These include pharmaceuticals, vaccines and cancer screening technologies.

'Through the award, we will build capacity to continually improve and develop the approaches we use in order to extract the best evidence from all relevant data available to inform decision making about interventions in the future. In the ?big data? world this includes registry and eHealth outcomes as well as clinical trial data. These allow us to make better decisions about how we deliver healthcare to our population to improve outcomes for all.

It will influence which drugs, vaccines and devices we use and why. The economic impact of these choices are also substantial, given that our own drugs budget is in excess of €2 billion and Ireland exports in excess of €4 billion worth of medical devices per annum. The quantitative methods also allow us to deal coherently with the uncertainty and complexity that exist in the evidence about many of the newer technologies that are developed'.

The programme of work draws on the advanced Bayesian statistical methods and computational resources available in the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin and brings it together with the Health Technology Assessment and Health Economics expertise available at the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics. 

Prof Walsh will also partner with leading Centres of Excellence worldwide including Harvard School of Public Health and the Universities of Sheffield and York. 

Professor John Forbes, a health economics expert based at University of Limerick, will receive €1.5 million to investigate the costs and benefits of personalised healthcare interventions and generate evidence that will inform decision making in this area.

'Advances in science have increased the prospect of diagnosing, treating and preventing illness in a more personal way.  Improved understanding of how individuals may benefit from tailored therapies will permit a better match and more informed choice by users and health care professionals.  Opportunities to design and deliver better services that are sensitive to the needs of particular groups are widespread.

This research programme will develop and apply better ways of assessing the health and economic consequences of new and existing health technologies where personalised care is feasible and desirable.  The economic and health issues are genuine and deserve the application of modern methods used by economists to determine ways of improving health and welfare in Ireland.  This research will aim to strengthen public interest in personalised health so that the positive effects of investing in these innovative approaches will be shared more wisely and fairly for everyone', says Prof Forbes.


For more information contact:
Gillian Markey
Communications Manager
Health Research Board
t +353 1 2345103
m +353 87 2288514
e gmarkey(at)

Notes to editors

The Health Research Board is leading Irish agency responsible for the development of patient oriented, population health sciences and health services research. The organisation is at the forefront of delivering research and evidence to underpin health policy and practice. In addition to driving the health research agenda, the HRB research portfolio supports Ireland's ambition to develop a knowledge-driven economy. 

The HRB Research Leader Awards scheme is a new initiative to target strategic research leadership gaps in Population Health and Health Services Research nationally. The HRB have highlighted capacity and capability gaps at senior level in certain disciplines, methodologies and skillsets through the HRB Mapping Report for Population Health and Health Services Research (2011). To address this, third level institutions, in partnership with stakeholder organisations in the health and social care sector, were invited to nominate individuals with established leadership capacity to propose and conduct an ambitious applied health research agenda of strategic national importance over the next five years, and to commit to supporting the post into the future

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