Call to revamp medical funding

Call to revamp medical funding

8th March, 2013

From Article by Bridie Smith, Science and Technology Reporter, The Age, 8 March 2013

Australia’s medical researchers have called on both sides of politics to adopt the advice of a key review which would boost research spending and revolutionise the way funds are allocated.

The McKeon review, handed to Health Minister Tanya Plibersek’s office last week, is a 10-year plan for the health and medical research sector – the first blueprint it has had since the Wills five-year funding plan expired in 2005.

Commissioned by the Gillard government after the high-profile fight against feared cuts to research funding in the 2011-2012 federal budget, the yet to be released report calls for an additional $2 billion-$3 billion a year to be invested in the sector in the next decade.

It argues the country’s research activities need to be better managed to improve the impact medical research has on people’s health, particularly as the population ages.

In a rare display of outspokenness, the heads of some of the country’s top universities and research institutes have called on the government and opposition to adopt the findings, which include the creation of 1000 fellowships for doctors so they can devote half their time to research.

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health director Geoffrey Donnan said health and medical researchers were united in their support for the review’s findings. He said the recommendations would give direction and focus to the sector, which had been drifting since the Wills report expired.

Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty said in a climate where research institutes, hospitals and universities were required to function as businesses rather than ”a public good entity”, a blueprint which placed a value on research was vital. The 15-month review also calls for the country’s main medical research funding body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, to increase the size and lifespan of grants which run for an average three years.

”They are spending far too much time writing and not enough time doing,” Professor Donnan said.

The concerns are echoed by director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Doug Hilton and Melbourne University deputy vice-chancellor and head of research Jim McCluskey who note that around 75 per cent of all grants written went unfunded.

Chaired by CSIRO board chairman Simon McKeon, the report also recommends the establishment of up to 20 research centres to encourage hospitals, universities and research institutes to collaborate on research that translates.

Health and medical research has had significant capital investment across the country. At Melbourne’s Parkville precinct, which accounts for 27 per cent of NHMRC funding, building works worth $3 billion have either been completed or are due for completion by 2014.

”Buildings don’t make discoveries,” Professor Hilton said.

A spokesman for Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the government would consider the report.

Shadow health minister Peter Dutton urged the government to release the report.

Full article here.