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Budget Stops Slide Backwards For Health Research

Budget Stops Slide Backwards For Health Research

The Budget has only brought a temporary breathing space for health researchers says Professor Mark Richards from Health Researchers of New Zealand (HERONZ), but is not enough to develop a strong health research sector.

“To get us off the bottom of the international health research table in the developed world we need a doubling of the HRC budget, not incremental increases that barely keep up with costs and inflation,” he says.

He says the $22 million dollar increase in funding for the Health Research Council over the next four years will ameliorate the deterioration in health research. But the $5.5 million dollars increase per year will not improve the situation in real terms, or bring us close to the funding per capita of countries such as Australia, Europe or the United States.

“The budget increase is a relief, but it only returns us to where we were in 1998. Since then the number of new projects funded by HRC have been halved because of full-cost recovery by Universities. This means there has been substantially less funding to go round for the same number of research grant applications,” he says. “Top researchers are simply quitting the country because good projects are losing funding.”

Health research in this country is still in a fragile state says Professor Richards. It is the poor relation when compared to the total investment in Research, Science and Technology for 2004-05 of $621 million. Although the budget announcement of $5.5 million for health research for the coming year is a 12.9% increase to $48 million, this has to be compared to countries like Australia which has recently had an increase to a total of $A428 million per annum.

HERONZ believes the Government needs to recognise the substantial benefits of a strong health research sector and the vital role it plays in the development of the country’s growing biotechnology industry.

Professor Richards, who also holds the National Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Studies at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says over one third of our biotech companies are based on research which was originally funded by the Health Research Council. There are many benefits for health care and patients by having a vibrant health research sector, which has evidence-based data linked to local health needs. This cannot just be transferred from overseas and applied in New Zealand.

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