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Report Reveals N.Z. Health Research Is Sick

Australian Report Reveals N.Z. Health Research Is ‘Sick’

Health Researchers of New Zealand (HeRoNZ) welcomes the recent extensive and analysis of the N.Z. health research system and its funding by an Australian report. The ‘Science for Life’ report by the Australian Expert Group in Industry Studies (AEGIS), from the University of Western Sydney, reveals that health research in N.Z. is struggling to survive, and significantly under funded compared to other OECD countries.

“This report confirms almost everything we’ve been saying since we approached the Government late last year about declining real funding of health research over the last five years,” says Professor Mark Richards from HeRoNZ.

“We are virtually at the bottom of the heap now in terms of health research funding per capita, and it’s getting worse. Health researchers are tired of not being funded properly, with good research projects folding because of lack of resources, and many top people now looking overseas. If it continues this will have long term consequences for the health system in general.”

Professor Richards, Director of the Christchurch Cardioendocrine Research Group (heart research), is participating in a debate with politicians Ruth Dyson and Dr Paul Hutchison on health research funding and strategy, at the Inaugural Canterbury Health Science Research Conference on Sunday September 5 at 8pm. The Conference is being held in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The AEGIS report was commissioned by the Ministry of Research Science and Technology to assess funding levels for the Health Research Council (HRC). It reveals three main areas of concern:

N.Z.’s current level of public investment in health research through the HRC (S47.7m) is substantially lower than almost all benchmark countries (Australia,Canada,Ireland,Netherlands,Sweden,USA)

Most benchmark countries are increasing investment in health research (up to 20% p.a.). N.Z. has not had a real increase for several years and there is evidence from universities of a real decline.

Research costs are higher in N.Z because of ‘full-cost funding’, where universities reclaim a substantial proportion of HRC grants for overhead costs. This has happened over the last five years. As overall health research funding is lower than other OECD countries, this ‘full cost funding’ exacerbates the lack of investment.

The report points to an ‘urgent need to increase the present level of investment in health research….(and that it) is in serious danger of falling below a level necessary to sustain a functioning health research system.

Professor Richards says HeRoNZ is pleased to see that the AEGIS report recommends a real increase in funding of 0.01% of GDP per annum for the next four years, plus a ‘cost structure’ adjustment of 40% on top of this increase.

This translates to a rise in HRC funding from the present $47.7m to $76.5m a year by 2007/8, to sustain a health research system that benefits the public, and to absorb the impact of ‘full-cost funding’.

“These are very close to the figures HRC programme grant leaders have taken to the Government and the Minister of Research Science and Technology, Pete Hodgson, in recent months,” he says. “They completely vindicate our arguments.”

Professor Richards says HRC funded health research is not a black hole for the taxpayer dollar, as is sometimes simplistically portrayed. It has positive spin-offs for patients at the bedside, and attracts good doctors to health services.

A recent Australian study demonstrates it is also good economics, returning up to $5 for every $1 invested.

For information on the AEGIS report and health research funding:

> http://www.heronz.org.nz

For information on the Canterbury Health Science Research Conference September 5/6:

>http://www.cmrf.org.nz/index.php?page=conference

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