Privacy assurances for long term Hazelwood Health Study

HAZELWOOD Health Study research team has moved to reassure the community of the study's independence and privacy conditions as it this week targets another large area of Sale for participation in its adult survey.

The Monash University-led research team has now invited about 3500 Sale residents to complete its adult survey - the largest component of the Hazelwood Health Study in an effort to collect information about the potential long-term health impacts of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire.

Sale has been selected as the 'comparison town' in the large-scale study, and investigator professor Judi Walker said it was critical the study be able to compare the health of Morwell residents with that of a Gippsland town that was minimally exposed to the six-week smoke event.

This week, 726 Sale residents living in an area bound by Raglan, Landsdowne, Macarthur, Cunningham and York Sts, as well as Dawson, Buckley and McCole Sts, will receive their adult survey invitation packs.

To date only about seven percent of residents targeted in Sale have completed the survey.

Professor Walker urged as many eligible Sale residents as possible to get behind the study.

"The support of Sale people will not only help the research team understand the true extent of the impacts of the fire, but it will also contribute in a significant way with planning for the future health of Sale and wider Gippsland," she said.

Professor Walker said the research team was eager for Sale residents to understand the value of their participation, whether they think they were impacted or not and even if they were away at the time of the fire.

She said the research team had been listening to the community and 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 that any health information they provide is stored separately from name and contact details."

"The researchers involved in analysing the health data do not need, and will not be provided with, contact details.

"In addition, no other groups will be able to access any participant's information," she said.

In response to other concerns expressed about the independence of the study, Professor Walker said that 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 university research, the funding has come from an external source.

"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."

Anyone who participates in the adult survey will also be compensated for their time with a $20 Shop in Sale E-voucher, redeemable at a wide range of local businesses.

Professor Walker reminded any invited residents who may have already opted out of the survey that it is not too late to 'opt back in'.

They can do so by following the instructions on their invitation pack or calling 1800 985 899 (toll free) or visiting www.hazewloodhealthystudy.org.au/research-areas/adult-survey/adult-survey-faqs/ for more information.

"I also continue to urge any community groups who are keen to know more about the adult survey, to make contact," she said.

"One of our study team may be able to attend a meeting, provide more information and help to facilitate people's participation."

Gippsland Senior
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