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Research cuts anger senior staff

The closure of a child health research unit is the last straw, says a large group of leading health professionals in Queensland. By Aileen Macalintal

An open letter to the Queensland Premier from 39 professors, doctors and other health professionals questioning the closure of an internationally recognised research unit in Brisbane has appeared in state newspapers.

The letter was published as a full-page ad and paid for by the Queensland Nurses Union. It was signed by Linda Shields, a professor of nursing at James Cook University.

"We, the undersigned senior nurses and academics, are appalled by the Queensland Government's decision, via the hospital's board, to abolish the Nursing Research Unit at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH)," the letter stated.

Shields believes that the "closure of this world-renowned children's health research unit is a decision that will undermine the effectiveness and reputation of children's health services in Queensland".

"I was incensed that a highly productive research unit, led by a nurse with a terrific international reputation, supported by millions of dollars of grants, and whose work had demonstrably improved the health of children and families, was being cut," said Shields.

The letter, addressed to Campbell Newman, was also sent to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, as well as Dr Peter Steer and Susan Johnston, chief executive and chair (respectively) of Children's Health Queensland Hospital and Health Services.

It raised a call to restore funding for the Nursing Research Unit and stop all health service cuts until the impact of these issues have been fully assessed.

The unit, led by Dr Jeanine Young, plays a key role in programs and campaigns that aim to reduce infant mortality. Their projects include the identification of infant care practices in Queensland and the "safe sleeping campaign" to fight sudden infant death.

"Nursing research will be under a department called 'Education and Workforce'," said Shields.

"This means the downgrading of nursing research and will result in lack of evidence generation or the ability for nurses to translate research findings into practice, because the 'hands-on' approach that has been characteristic of the particular research unit will, by definition, disappear."

Shields said the nursing research unit will find it difficult to attract grant funding if it is subsumed under the workforce and education banner.

"The research, which might benefit children and families, will not occur and, subsequently, the long-term outcome for their health care will be compromised. Also, nursing as a research profession will be devalued and so high-quality researchers will not be attracted to work in the new children's hospital."

She said the current research would continue no matter what the outcome since it is funded by federal grants, "and Dr Young, like all good researchers, is ethically bound to continue it."

However, Newman said the claim that nursing research had been cut at RCH was untrue.

"In fact, we are seeking to enhance nursing research through the newly formed Children's Health Queensland Board. The board will focus on inter-professional partnerships and bring together a range of clinical disciplines into a contemporary model that will improve clinical care," he said.

Newman said the Queensland Nurses Union never raised this issue during the Health Minister's regular meeting with them.

"Rather than waste their members' money on taking out full-page ads that spread misinformation, we would advise they spend their money taking out ads fighting the federal Labor government's cut of $103 million to the Queensland Health budget," he said.

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