Researchers say Hazelwood Health Study is independent and private

The researchers behind the Hazelwood Health Study have moved to reassure the community of the study’s independence and privacy.

It comes as they begin to target a new section of Morwell for participation in the Adult Survey, the largest component of the health study.

The Monash University-led research team has so far invited about 7500 Morwell residents to complete the survey in an effort to collect information about the potential long-term health impacts of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire.

This week, 1663 Morwell residents living in an area bound by Crinigan, Hourigan and Maryvale roads and Burnside Drive will receive their Adult Survey invitation packs.

To date, 1100 Morwell residents have completed the survey.

Investigator, Professor Judi Walker said the research team understood there was a level of concern about the study’s independence and the privacy of information collected.

“We can assure the community that privacy is our over-riding concern and we have stringent safeguards in place to keep all information secure,” Professor Walker said.

“It is also important that people understand any responses to the Adult Survey and health information we collect is stored separately from name and contact details.”

Professor Walker said researchers involved in analysing the data were only given access to the survey and health data and would not be provided with contact details.

“In addition, no other groups will be able to access anybody’s results,” she said.

In response to other concerns expressed about the independence of the study, Professor Walker said while the State Government had funded the research, it had no control over the release of the study’s findings.

“If anything, the government has always made it clear how important it is for the research to stand on its own and for the community to be able to access all study findings as they arise,” she said.

“Like almost all research, the funding has come from an external source,” Professor Walker said.

“In this case it has come from the State Government in response to concerns expressed by the local community – this in no way compromises the independence and integrity of the findings.”

Her comments come in the wake of a review of the health study which recommended the establishment of an independent board as it found there was “compromised independence” due to the involvement of the Department of Health and Human Services in contractual arrangements.

It is unclear whether the government will adopt this recommendation. It has indicated it will formally respond in September.

The research team will host community events in Morwell in the months to connect with community members who have not yet participated in the survey.

This will include a session at the Tribes Play Centre in Morwell between 11.30am to 2.30pm on Sunday, 18 September, where children can play and eat for free while members of the research team will be on hand to assist eligible parents or grandparents to complete the survey.

Registration is essential, by calling 1800 985 899.

The health study team will also have a presence at Mid Valley Shopping Centre between 10am to 2pm on Saturday, 10 September and Thursday, 13 October. Eligible people are invited to enjoy a free coffee and muffin while they complete the Adult Survey.

Professor Walker reminded residents who had already opted out of the survey that it’s not too late to ‘opt back in’ by following the instructions on their invitation pack or calling 1800 985 899.