A world-class health system needs investment in medical research

A world-class health system needs investment in medical research

23rd January, 2017

New Health Minister Greg Hunt’s vision for Australia to have the best health system by working with Australia’s medical researchers can only be realised through smart investment in health and medical research, Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) President, Professor Tony Cunningham AO says.

Minister Hunt’s vision is achievable, according to Professor Cunningham, but will require a steadfast commitment to deliver the Government’s flagship $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), and careful attention to plug the current holes in health and medical research funding.

AAMRI has outlined these funding issues in its 2017-18 Pre-Budget Submission, including addressing what is an effective forecast reduction in funding to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) over coming years.

“The 2016-17 Budget projected small increases for NHMRC funding of about 1.5% per annum, but with CPI forecast by Treasury to be around 2.25 to 2.5% over the next three years, this means funding through the NHMRC Medical Research Endowment Account is set to decline in real terms over the forward estimates period,” Professor Cunningham said.

“The promised new investment in health and medical research through the MRFF can’t come soon enough. The costs incurred in undertaking world-class, high quality research are increasing beyond CPI levels, with the equipment and infrastructure required becoming more complex and needing greater investment.

“Delivering the Minister’s vision for the best healthcare system in the world requires strong and stable investment in the NHMRC to fund the next generation of incredible breakthroughs. Getting the MRFF underway will help us turn those breakthroughs in the lab into new treatments, cures and medical devices.”

Professor Cunningham said increased support for the NHMRC’s Practitioner Fellowship Scheme would also go a long way to achieving Minister Hunt’s vision of Australia having the best health system in the world.

“Having clinician researchers working in hospitals and general practice while conducting research simultaneously leads to some of the best innovations in healthcare, especially highly important preventative healthcare,” Professor Cunningham said.  “Until now, Australia has not been as effective at embedding research within our hospitals as other similar countries, and we need to change that to ensure a high performing and efficient health system.

The Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities 2016-18 recently outlined a priority for the MRFF to support the expansion of the NHMRC’s Practitioner Fellowship Scheme, which we wholeheartedly support. Having funding available for such schemes will encourage our top clinicians to pursue a dual pathway that includes research, allowing new discoveries and treatments to find their way into the health system a lot quicker.”

“Time and again it has been shown what a terrific investment medical research is for Australia. It’s estimated at least $3 is returned for every $1 invested in health and medical research through improved diagnostics, savings to the health system and improved treatments and cures, so it makes good budgetary sense to support research.

“Just last week there was an announcement about the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s approval of the leukaemia drug Venetoclax, which was developed by AAMRI member the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, in conjunction with fellow AAMRI member Peter Mac, and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. This drug essentially ‘melts away’ cancer and will save lives. This is a marvellous example of Australian medical research. There will be many more to come with sustainable funding from the MRFF, and that is something all Australians can look forward to.”

Media Contact: Rebecca Thorpe, 0401 419 590, rebecca.thorpe@aamri.org.au