Health research spurred by and for residents of the Northwest Territories could be getting a boost in the near future with collaborative work underway between the territorial and Aboriginal governments on forming a support unit for patient-oriented research.
The department of Health and Social Services (HSS), the Tlicho Government and the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. have teamed up to establish a NWT Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials Unit, or SUPPORT Unit for short, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
“One of the things we would really like to do as we progress and try to improve the quality of health and social services and healthcare delivery is involving the people who are receiving the service, and specifically engaging people as to how can we do this better, what are the priorities from your governments, your organizations, and really working with them in their research, as well as the research priorities that they have,” said Jim Corkal, chief clinical advisor for HSS.
SUPPORT units, established as part of CIHR’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, are essentially groups of experts with policy knowledge and research resources capable of pursuing health research fuelled by the patients themselves, their communities or First Nations.
After supporting the research itself, the units also lead and facilitate decision-making within the health system to ensure best practices are being implemented at the service level.
“Instead of it being a completely top-down approach, we’re looking at how can we make this a more bottom-up approach to get to areas that people are very, very interested in for the health of their communities,” Corkal said.
The team was recently successful in securing some funding from CIHR to begin work on setting up the unit. Now in its formative stages, a small steering committee has been set up to work on a business plan to get it up and running, based on input being gathered from the communities and Aboriginal governments.
“We are in the process of structuring the support unit and what it would look like here if we did develop it in the territories,” Corkal said. “We’re very much in what I call the formative stages. We have the concept, we’re looking for appropriate partners, and how we structure this will be very much up to our partners and whether or not it’s meeting their goals and our goals.”
Though the initiative is in its early stages, Corkal said a likely focus for the research will be on primary care delivery, as well as Aboriginal health.
“Specifically in our environment, I think the NWT is uniquely positioned for research related to Aboriginal health, as well as research around what we call cultural capabilities,” or ensuring that service delivery is done in a culturally safe, aware and relevant fashion, Corkal said.
He said the unit will cooperate with, but not duplicate, other bottom-up initiatives within the government, such as the community wellness planning being undertaken by the department’s Aboriginal Health and Wellness division.
The NWT team is now working on developing a business plan that will present its priorities, governance, resourcing and budget requirements.
According to CIHR, SUPPORT Units – housed in other jurisdictions across Canada – require $2-10 million per year each to run. CIHR matches any financial commitments made by the jurisdictions.
Corkal said there is no set timeline as to when the business planning process will be complete.