Health study expansion ‘too costly’

A review of the Hazelwood Health Study has found the cost of extending it to include emergency responders and other Latrobe Valley residents would outweigh the health and economic benefits.

Currently, the Adult Survey, a major component of the health study, only includes participants from Morwell.

Following calls from the community for it to include non-Morwell residents, in particular emergency responders to the fire and people who work in Morwell, the State Government engaged a consultant to review the study’s scope.

The review’s final report found “the economic costs of extending the study to include emergency responders are likely to outweigh health and economic benefits in avoiding disease burden attributable to exposure to particulate matter”.

It found the same for the inclusion of all Latrobe Valley residents, but stated that extending the study to emergency responders and people who worked in Morwell “may possibly be warranted from a broader equity and social perspective”.

“An opt-in model for the wider Latrobe Valley could also be introduced based on concerns for equity,” it stated.

Morwell and Districts Community Recovery Committee chair Carolyne Boothman said the committee would meet tonight to discuss the review and formulate a position.

“My personal view is I’m disappointed that the health of the Latrobe Valley just comes down to cost, and particularly for all our emergency responders that again it’s just judged by money rather than the time and energy and service they provided and ultimately the risks they’re then exposed to,” Ms Boothman said.

The review has also recommended an independent board be established as it found there was “compromised independence” due to the involvement of the Department of Health and Human Services in contractual arrangements and no clear committee chair responsible for the overall study implementation that was separate from the lead investigator.

Ms Boothman said if an independent board was established, its members should have “contextual knowledge”.

“My concern would be if completely independent people are brought in who don’t know the background, that could be a major risk,” she said.

The review found there was “suboptimal” stakeholder engagement and unclear responsibilities in the study’s Community Advisory Committee and the Clinical Reference Group.

It found the school and community wellbeing components of the study had not met their recruitment requirements, while the early life and older persons study streams had been meeting theirs.

The adult survey component is still underway, however a recent statement from Hazelwood Health Study researchers highlighted that only 25 per cent of Morwell residents so far targeted by the study had agreed to participate in the survey.

Latrobe City Councillor Kellie O’Callaghan said it was “disappointing there are clear gaps in important areas such as governance, independence and community engagement”.

“Emergency responders’ lives can’t be measured in financial terms,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the government would formally respond in September “to allow time for community feedback and careful consideration as to how to best address the issues raised”.