Elections are always a time of great promises, as projects and opportunities that may not be priorities or business as usual get attention; this is usual practice across all political persuasions. 2019 was no different and given a year has passed, it’s time to look back on what health and medical research the Coalition committed to in the lead up to and during the Election campaign.
A significant number of commitments related to funding allocations from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). From the commencement of MRFF funding in 2017 to 31 January 2020 the MRFF has expended $317 million.
The total committed funds (i.e. contracts signed) is $595 million, with the difference between this amount and the funds expended being future instalments that have yet to be paid.
Below is a list of the Election commitments, categorised according to whether the commitment has been completed or is in progress.
$110 million to headspace centres for young people at the early stages of severe mental illness
These services have been made available since the announcement on 20 December 2018.
$210 000 to the Healthy Minds Program, health and wellbeing trial in 10 high schools
On 1 March 2019 Healthy Minds announced the 10 successful school applicants for term 2 of 2019.
$12.5 million for 3 projects to research how to improve the effectiveness of indigenous mental health programs.
Currently, a total of $12.5 million from the Million Minds Mission funding has been allocated to funding research programs focused on the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Funded institutions include Curtin University, University of Melbourne and University of Western Sydney.
Research Australia has been advocating for both the evaluation of mental health programs and further research into mental health.
Cancer and clinical trials
$5 million from the Australian Brain Cancer Mission for improving access, and raise participation in, local and international trials
In January 2019 the Australian and New Zealand Haematology and Oncology Group (ANZHOC) announced that the funding from the Brain Cancer Mission had been awarded.
The national clinical trials group for adult brain cancer, Cooperative Trials Group for NeuroOncology (COGNO), also received funding and will work with ANZCHOG to maximise trial opportunities for all Australians diagnosed with brain cancer.
Research Australia has been advocating for the expansion of clinical trials.
$6 million investment in a sarcoma surgical research centre.
Grant delivered 16 July 2019.
Development of a National Rare Diseases Framework and Action Plan
The Government provided $170,000 in funding to Rare Voices Australia to enable the collaborative development of the action plan and framework. Rare Voices Australia, in collaboration with stakeholders, released the National Strategic Action Plan for Rare Diseases in February 2020. The Government committed to providing $3.3 million for activities to implement the Action Plan.
Research Australia has been advocating for the development of a Rare Diseases Framework and Action Plan and provided feedback on the Draft Plan.
Biomedical engineering research
Invest $30 million in St Vincent Hospital’s Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, Australia’s first hospital-based biomedical engineering research and training hub.
On 1 July 2019 the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, visited the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery to confirm the $30 million in funding.
Stage 1 requires $200 million to undertake site demolition, construction and building fit out. In addition to the Federal Government commitment, the Victorian State Government has committed $60 million and a further $62.5 million has been raised through partner contributions and other sources. The balance of over $40 million is to be raised from philanthropic contributions.
The Centre is an alliance of a number of partners including University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, Swinburne University, ACU, RMIT, Bionics Institute, and the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
Research Australia has been advocating for advanced technologies in health and medical research.
$7.2 million for medical research and education programs to help reduce stillbirth in Australia.
Of the $7.2 million in Commonwealth Government funding, $1.2m has been allocated to the University of Melbourne, to minimising preventable stillbirths. $3 million has been granted to the Centre for Research Excellence, University of Queensland, to research stillbirth prevention. Through the Select Committee Report on Stillbirth Research and Education, the Government reiterated that the remaining $3 million is to be spent on stillbirth education for mothers and practitioners.
Research Australia has highlighted research programs and funding for stillbirth research and Australia’s research expertise in this area.
Full funding of MRFF
MRFF fully capitalised at $20 billion by 2020/21
In line with Budget projections, $7.8 billion was credited to the MRFF Special Account on 23 July 2019. The Government remains on track to fully capitalise the MRFF at $20 billion by 2020-21.
Research Australia has advocated for the full capitalisation of the MRFF through submissions and discussions with the Government.
Expanding clinical trials
$100 million boost for rural, regional and remote community access to clinical trials across the country
$100 million has been made available over 5 years ($20 million per annum from 2020-21 until 2024-25). Applications for the first round of funding closed on 3 March 2020.
$9.6 million for the Children’s Cancer Foundation to ensure children with cancer have access to the benefits of clinical trials and research projects
The funding allocated to the Children’s Research Foundation for dispersing to a range of recipient organisations.
Research Australia has advocated for the expansion of clinical trials.
$26.3 million over 5 years for a new Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing program
Funds for the Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing program have been provided for in the 2019-20 Health Budget. This program is yet to be delivered.
$63 million to funding an additional six specialist residential facilities for eating disorders
The Government has initiated funding for two of these specialist residential facilities:
- $13.5 million for an ACT facility at Canberra Hospital; and
- $4 million for an eating disorders centre in Perth.
Research Australia is advocating for evaluating of mental health programs and further research into mental health.
$185 million 10-year Australian Dementia Mission
This is a restatement of the Government’s commitment to this Mission that is focused on diagnosis, treatment and prevention, fall prevention, avoidable hospitalisations and assistive technology to support independence.
$10 million was spent in 2018-19. Since then, the Government has been consulting on the development of a Dementia, Ageing and Aged Care Mission Roadmap. The $17.5 million committed for 2019-20 has not yet been spent.
Through the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Research Australia has been actively engaged with seeking further aged care research and evaluation. Research Australia’s Health Economics Roundtable has made aged care a priority.
Funding for the National Health and Medical Research Institute
Increasing funds for the NHMRC in line with indexation
The 2019-20 Budget forecast continued small increases in funding over the four-year budget estimates, at less than the rate of inflation, which was reiterated by the Government in the election campaign. Funding to the NHMRC Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA) in 2019-20 is $843 million.
Research Australia has consistently advocated for increased funding to at least the rate of inflation for the NHMRC.
Better suicide and self-harm data
$15 million to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) for improved data on self-harm and suicide.
The AIHW, the National Mental Health Commission and the Department of Health are to work together to implement this initiative through an Official Order between the AIHW and the Department of Health that will allow suicide and self-harm data improvement activities to begin.
Research Australia has lead advocacy for improved collection and sharing of data.
Collecting and sharing this data for research will assist the delivery of Research Australia’s advocacy objective for more mental health program evaluation and research.
$15 million for a Melbourne based Sport Research and Performance Hub, in conjunction with Monash University
Whilst initial funding has not been received, much of it is to go to the infrastructure of the new Hub and discussions are still ongoing between stakeholders.
Research Australia has advocated for improved health outcomes through prevention measures.
Research translation and women’s health
$5 million to fund the National Women’s Health Research, Translation and Impact Network
The Australian Health Research Alliance (AHRA) has established the National Women’s Health Research Network (AHRA WHN). As a national peak body for women’s health research, translation and impact they have pledged to ‘seek to support government policy and strategy, to inform future women’s health research, translation and impact funding and to catalyse national collaborative research, through transparent peer-reviewed mechanisms, across the AHRA network and stakeholders nationally.’
Research Australia has been advocating for accelerating translation and raising the focus on women’s health.
Research Australia welcomes all these Pre-Election commitments by the Coalition Government to support health and medical research as they create a significant opportunity to generate change. It is clear that Government has made progress on many of these, however, there is more that needs to be done to meet these promises. Research Australia continues to monitor how they are progressing and advocate for the full delivery of these promises.