Researcher honoured in Top Ten list

30 July 2015

A University of Sydney academic working to improve the quality of maternal and infant health care in Australia's remote communities has been recognised among the nation's top researchers.

Federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley today announced the Ten of the Best Research Projects 2014, a snapshot highlighting Australia's leading research initiatives from among the thousands of National Health and Medical Research Council-funded projects currently underway.

Professor Lesley Barclay, Head of the University Centre for Rural Health, was included on this list for her research in Northern Territory's 'Top End', working with local Aboriginal women, health practitioners and policymakers to give mothers and children in disadvantaged communities the best start in life. Professor Sally Tracy from the Sydney Nursing School was also a chief investigator on the project.

Professor Barclay, who began her career as a midwife, said she saw that few women received evidence-based care in rural and remote communities, or received care that wasn't delivered in an adequately respectful or family-centred way.

"While recently much progress has been made in mainstream services, Aboriginal women and their infants still receive less than optimal services," Professor Barclay said.

"My career over the last two decades has used research to change systems and train others to continue this work into the future."

The Northern Territory has the highest rates of infant and young child mortality in Australia, with 9.2 deaths per 1000 live births. As of 2011, there were only 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working midwives in Australia.

To help redress these issues, Professor Barclay and her team set out to research how maternal and infant health care could be improved in two large remote communities and their regional centre. They conducted in-depth observations, dozens of interviews and analysed hundreds of mother-infant records, working in collaboration with health system leaders and the community to implement evidence-based changes to the system.

As a result, the Northern Territory health system has adopted the Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) model, which ensures continuity of care through a single midwife who provides services across pregnancy, birth and postbirth. A cost analysis nearly two years later showed a saving of around $700 per mother-infant (cohort).

While still more needs to be done in the area, Professor Barclay said: "Our evaluation data has confirmed that maternity care in the regional centre is now of a better quality. It is also more culturally informed and acceptable."

The Ten of the Best Research Projects 2014 were selected for their innovativeness and potential to make a difference to the lives of Australians and people worldwide.

"These research stories give us a glimpse into the next generation of treatments and medical devices that will make a difference to people's lives," Minister Sussan Ley said.

"It is exciting, pioneering work and this publication serves to highlight only a few of the many innovative discoveries being made by Australian researchers."

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Emily Jones, 02 8627 1433, 0427 309 579,