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HSE Open Access Research Awards 2020

The 7th annual HSE Open Access Awards were announced on Friday 11th December, and the overall winner was the paper by Dónal Ó Mathúna and colleagues

Published: 18 December 2020

In a year unlike any other, we have all had to learn new ways of doing old things. Since their inception in 2014, the HSE Open Access awards have become a fixture in the health research calendar. When COVID-19 hit these shores in March 2020 it was initially thought that the event would have to be abandoned along with so many others.

However, after some deliberation, we decided to forge ahead with a modified version of the awards. The usual range of categories were replaced by just one – COVID-19 – and the entire process was moved online.

Open Access Research Awards 2020
Open Access Research Awards 2020 virtual ceremony

The awards normally judge research published in the last two years, so focusing on COVID-19 naturally limited the potential entries. Offsetting this however was the greatly increased level of research being carried out into the threat of the coronavirus – researchers in the Irish health services have been doing extraordinary work this year. A panel of judges was convened, covering a variety of disciplines. Each judged a selection of entries, and all papers were cross-checked to underpin the quality of the judging process. The top-scoring entries were further assessed by an external judge, who also chose an overall winner.

The presentation of the awards is usually a convivial occasion in Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, where attendees chat over mince pies and coffee. This year the venue was the humbler surroundings of a Webex teleconference, but the attendance was still sizeable and the ceremony enjoyable, despite minor technical hitches.

The National Health Librarian Aoife Lawton presented the awards, with speeches by Dr Ana Terrés of the Research & Development office, and the external judge Dr Jonathan Drennan.

Aoife revealed that the European Commission looked at 10 years of publishing globally between  2009-2018, and open access trends.  For these years, Ireland produced 45.9% of its publications in open access, so 54.1% was closed or required a fee to access.  The gap between closed and open access is closing.

Prof. Drennan observed that a year ago the WHO had 8 resources on COVID-19 - now it has 136,642. In the context of this global research, Irish-based researchers have been making their mark. Prof. Drennan spoke about each of the winning entries and highlighted their individual qualities.

Jane McGrath’s paper highlighted the challenges facing children and adolescents with ADHD – and their families – during COVID-19, but also solutions to enhancing the wellbeing of these children. An excellent and beautifully written paper.

The paper by Dale Whelehan and colleagues effectively and comprehensively presented the impact on surgeons and surgeons in training of working through COVID-19. It was a pleasure to read a high-quality qualitative research paper.

The overall winning entry, by Dónal Ó Mathúna and colleagues, was a quality meta-analysis that showed the value of international collaboration and demonstrated how powerful well-conducted systematic reviews can be. There’s no doubt that this publication provided evidence that will enhance clinician decision making, as well as providing care and treatment to patients with COVID-19.

Reflecting on the many unanticipated consequences of the pandemic, Dr Terrés suggested that COVID-19 had the effect of making Open Access come to the fore in a way that has never happened before. Nearly 100% of COVID-19 papers, she said, had been made Open Access to ensure that information was available to fight the coronavirus with maximum efficiency.

Dr Terrés contrasted this with the 20%-30% of Open Access papers in other medical areas, saying that there was a long way to go to achieve the levels of cooperation shown in relation to COVID-19.

“I think this award is brilliant,” she added, “because it brings it to the fore of people’s minds and makes sure that the issue remains alive.”