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Research funding sees long overdue boost, but consultation critical for a clear future plan

Health Industry Hub | May 10, 2023 |

Medical: The Australian health and medical research community is rejoicing at the news of a funding boost to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). Research Australia has welcomed the much-needed injection of funds, which will help support the critical work that the research community performs to improve the health and wellbeing of all Australians.

Research Australia CEO, Nadia Levin, expressed her delight at the government’s commitment to increasing funding by 3.6%. While the increase brings the NHMRC in line with inflation, Ms Levin noted that there is still a long way to go, but this is certainly welcome news for the research community.

The national body is also pleased to see the focus on commercialising health and medical research, which is being championed through programs such as the National Reconstruction Fund and Australia’s Economic Accelerator. Ms Levin emphasised that sustained financial support is needed for all stages of the health and medical research pipeline, from initial discovery to commercialisation, to ensure that Australian health and medical research can contribute to a healthy population and economy.

Ms Levin also highlighted the significant investment in the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), which approved up to $870 million for release to fund research in 2023-24.

“Of that available $870 million only $650 million is flowing through to the MRFF in 2023-24 and the subsequent three financial years. We will be working with government to understand why,” said Research Australia CEO, Nadia Levin.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) will continue to work with the government to ensure the sustainability and future proofing of Australia’s medical research sector.

“Our mid-career researchers are tomorrow’s scientific leaders. Australia has invested so much in this talented group, and without action to support them, we will lose them and the value they bring to our nation’s future scientific breakthroughs,” said AAMRI President Professor Kathryn North.

Every time a highly skilled researcher is unable to secure funding to continue their research, more than 15 years of past training and expertise is lost from medical research.

AAMRI is looking forward to the upcoming consultation process for a long-awaited national health and medical research strategy, which will firstly consider how to best govern Australia’s two major government funding sources: the Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA) and the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

“This consultation is critical to ensure there is a clear plan for federal medical research funding that’s prioritised and allocated in a way that not only benefits all Australians but also supports and develops a thriving health and medical research workforce,” said AAMRI CEO Dr Saraid Billiards

The government’s $6.1 billion investment in strengthening Medicare and improvements in digital health is also applauded by Research Australia. Ms Levin emphasised the importance of supporting healthcare reform with evidence grounded in research. While the primary care improvements in the budget will benefit Australian health consumers for the next decade and beyond, she highlighted the need for support for researchers to generate the evidence for improved primary care.

It is heartening to see overdue digital health investment, particularly improvements to the My Health Record. Ms Levin noted that it could one day provide a wealth of secure, anonymous health data and accompanying research opportunities on a scale never before seen in Australia.

However, Ms Levin also stressed that “all improvements to the My Health Record must be accompanied by a framework to guide safe, sensible secondary use of the health record for public-good health research. Research Australia stands ready to work with a reinvigorated Australian Digital Health Agency to progress this Framework.”

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