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Medical researchers request extra A$543m from upcoming budget

Image: Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes

Australian association asks for budget boost to offset negative economic impact of Covid-19

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has challenged the federal government to provide A$543 million more in research funding in the May budget.

The AAMRI has asked for an extra 300 Investigator Grants to be created for early to mid-career researchers over three years. It proposes that half the funding should come from the Medical Research Future Fund and the other half from new funds, channelled through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The association says it wants action to offset Covid-related losses and build on the strengths demonstrated by the medical research community during the pandemic. “The strong response to Covid-19 and the stable operational environment for medical research present a golden opportunity for Australia to attract significant inward investment in medical research,” its submission says.

A statement from the association warns that Australia’s “medical research sector faces an uncertain future as the economic impact of Covid-19 has led to declines in research revenue, with philanthropy, gift-giving and revenue from international education all falling”.

“The anticipated economic impact amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of reduced research revenue each year. This decline will mean fewer medical research careers can be supported, and as a result fewer new discoveries and treatments being developed.”

AAMRI president Jonathan Carapetis said that “every time a highly skilled medical researcher is unable to secure funding to continue their research, more than 15 years of past training and expertise is lost from medical research”.

“We cannot allow the economic downturn to impair a sector which is vital for the future health of the nation. Instead, we need to build, sustain and nurture medical research capacity, and this means investing in the next generation of our medical research workforce,” Carapetis said.

The submission argues that the requested boost would address the “disproportionate” impact of Covid-19 on younger researchers and on those at critical stages of their careers and research. It says that using existing grant frameworks would mean few additional administrative costs.

Meanwhile, an AAMRI analysis suggests that last year, medical research institutes had a slightly higher success rate (14.8 per cent) than the overall success rate (13.3 per cent) for the A$367.48m Investigator Grants scheme from the National Health and Medical Research Council. Medical research institutes received 44 per cent of the overall Investigator Grant funding at A$160.2m, while universities and other organisations took 56 per cent. By number, research institutes took 67 per cent of all grants, reflecting the lower average dollar value of those grants.

Also this week, a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia says that data on where medical workers are based are not sufficiently monitored and may be hampering access to medical care for Australians. The paper, by Grant Russell from Monash University’s school of primary and allied healthcare, says that data collection and data infrastructure are particularly inadequate in rural and regional Australia.

“Most recently, the dramatic increase in numbers of graduates from Australian medical schools has occurred in the absence of clear plans as to how to use these additional doctors to optimally meet community need,” Russell said in a statement.