UL-led research project seeks to improve access to healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities
Dr Éilish Burke, Trinity College Dublin, and Dr Sean Healy, University of Limerick, joined Una Coates and Hayley Kavanagh of Special Olympics Ireland at the launch of a groundbreaking research project aimed at enhancing healthcare access for individuals with intellectual disabilities Picture: Brian Arthur
Thursday, 29 February 2024

A new project led by researchers at University of Limerick is seeking to improve access to healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities.

Researchers at UL, in collaboration with a national team of researchers and Special Olympics Ireland, have been selected to conduct a national assessment and advocacy project to improve inclusivity and equity in healthcare.

It is part of an international initiative called the Rosemary Collaboratory, which was established by Special Olympics International.

Following a competitive request for proposals in 2023, eight countries alongside three US states have been selected to conduct a thorough assessment of the inclusivity of their healthcare systems for people with intellectual disabilities.

Ireland is the only European country participating, highlighting its commitment to advancing healthcare for all and the commencement of phase one of the multi-stage project was officially launched this Thursday at UL.

Dr Sean Healy, Associate Professor of Physical Activity and Sport Participation, Policy and Practice in UL’s Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, is the project lead for Ireland.

He explained: “As researchers, we strive to positively impact our communities and society through our work. Joining the Rosemary Collaboratory, our team of experienced academics and stakeholders are in a prime position to significantly advance inclusive healthcare in Ireland.”

This first phase of the project will provide a foundation for future phases in which healthcare system improvement initiatives will be enacted.

Dr Rosie Gowran, Associate Professor in Occupational Therapy at the School of Allied Health in UL who is the Clinical Lead for the National Clinical Programme for People with Disabilities, explained the benefits of the collaboration.

“The Rosemary Collaboratory represents a significant step towards supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities to navigate Ireland’s healthcare system. By uniting global expertise and local insight, this initiative will not only highlight the critical gaps in our current healthcare system but also pave the way for substantial, actionable change that will enhance accessibility, affordability, and the overall quality of healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities.”

Speaking about the project, UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said: “University of Limerick’s role in leading Ireland’s participation in the Rosemary Collaboratory underscores our efforts as leader for equality, diversity and inclusivity. And, via the partnerships built across campus and Ireland with academics and stakeholders alike, it contributes to our principle of proactively collaborating to make a difference in society.”

The Irish team brings together a coalition of researchers from UL, Dublin City University, University of Dublin Trinity College, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, working in partnership with Special Olympics Ireland.

Along with Dr Healy, key team members include Dr Owen Doody and Jeanne O’Sullivan (UL), Professor Anthony Staines (DCU), Dr Éilish Burke (TCD), Professor Mary Rose Sweeney (RCSI), alongside Special Olympics Ireland's Hayley Kavanagh and Kathy Fulcher.

Their efforts are supported by a Partner Advisory Board comprising representatives from Ireland’s Health Services Executive, National Disability Authority, Special Olympic Ireland’s Health messenger team, and experts by experience.

Phase one will involve a comprehensive assessment across a broad spectrum of indicators within Ireland’s healthcare system. The insights gleaned from this assessment will contribute to a global report on the inclusivity of healthcare for persons with intellectual disabilities, due for release by Special Olympics International in 2025.

This report will serve as a cornerstone for future system improvement efforts.