Health Impact Assessments an Introduction

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You would have seen our media release yesterday and perhaps some TV media regarding our “community led” Health Impact Assessment (HIA) which we will be partnering with the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE) from the UNSW. Their website is www.hiaconnect.edu.au.

Health Impact Assessment is both a technical decision-making tool and process for stakeholder engagement that seeks to maximize benefits and prevent or minimize the negative health consequences of a particular project, policy or plan. This is a refreshing change to the approach of the coal industry and the Dept of Planning which focuses on mitigation, minimum standards, exceptions etc.

CHETRE have a proven methodology for running HIA’s with a number of objectives and milestones used to guide the study and a standardised assessment approach. This structured evidence based process ensures transparency in decision making, which is also refreshing given our recent Namoi Water Study experiences. This document outlines the HIA methodology.

The structure for running the HIA is similar to the NWS in that we require;

Scoping Committee. A group of people from across the region to determine the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the study. This includes making decisions about the geographic region to be covered in the assessment, areas of focus, timeframe, resources and what evidence will be gathered. We need to put together a scoping committee of motivated, community people from across the region to form this scoping committee which will have a limited life sitting initially in mid September for half a day and then working with CHETRE to set the ToR.

It is important that this committee reflect our community’s views. It will comprise 9 community members and 1 from CHETRE. This is a community initiative and there are already a range of groups who could provide concerned people to sit on the scoping committee. The Namoi Community Network and the NW Alliance are 2 groups who immediately spring to mind.

Facilitator. CHETRE has agreed to facilitate the HIA scoping workshop and work with the scoping committee to develop the terms of reference.

Stakeholder/Steering Committee. This committee will be formed after the ToR are determined. Ideally there will be people from the original scoping committee plus other professional and experienced community members. We will need a strong chairperson who is experienced in health matters, is well connected, has excellent meeting skills and is seen as independent.

Independent Experts. From time to time experts will be required to put together information to achieve the milestones. E.g. An early stage is to do a health profile of the region. This may require a graduate student, a number of GP’s or a section of Hunter and New England Health.

Sponsors. Bodies to fund the study beyond the original scoping phase. Once the scope is in place we can determine the likely budget. The bigger the scope, the bigger the budget.

At this point we believe that we have a good chance of getting the funding – given the widely held concerns about health impacts. However we believe that rather than get the funding from one source we should get multiple sponsors to ensure that no one group can influence the studies outcome. Options include the NCMA, RDANI, Cotton Australia, Lock the Gate, Hunter and NE Health, Dept of Planning, Corporates (e.g. Graincorp).

We will be using the Health Forum in Gunnedah on the 4th of August to get feedback on these ideas and set the direction for the phase 1 scoping.