Health and medical research funding cuts: the facts

12 Apr 2011

A cabinet leak has confirmed that the Government is planning to cut funding for to Australia’s medical research in the upcoming budget. This will come from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) budget, the peak body for funding medical research in Australia. 

The NHMRC currently commits around $700 million each year to fund health and medical research. 

A cut will have an effect on all Australians. It will risk:

  • future access to health benefits
  • reducing Australia’s spending on health
  • the long-term investment made by previous governments, as medical research takes years and sometimes decades to come to fruition
  • retaining Australia’s best scientists, which will be detrimental to our future research capacity
  • medical research jobs – the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) directly supported 8000 jobs in 2010.

The amount of money available to award to new projects each year is less than a third of the NHMRC’s total budget, as project grants last for three years on average.

Last year, the NHMRC committed to around $430 million for project grants. Only 20% of applicants were successful in having their projects funded. Given the number of applicants has risen by about 10 percent, and the costs per grant will also have risen, the success rate for funding of new grants may drop to as low as 14%. This means only 14% of the health and medical projects that researchers need to carry out in order to advance medical knowledge and benefit the health of all will be able to go ahead.

Australian patients are usually the first to benefit from Australian discoveries.

Medical research improves the long-term health outcomes of all Australians. Reduced funding will decrease our capacity to respond to the unique healthcare needs of Australians

Medical research also has an economic benefit to the country. Every $1 invested in Australian health R&D sector returned, on average, $2.17 in national economic development (Access Economics 2008).

Australian research produced: the bionic ear, the heart pacemaker, the humidicrib, the medical ultrasound, the cervical cancer vaccine, to name a few.

The entire budget of the NHMRC is currently:     

  • less than 2% (1.8%) of the 2008/2009 total budget of the Department of Health and Ageing of $38.38 billion
  • less than 1% (0.93%) of the estimated cost of the Australian Broadband Network ($43 billion)

Many Queensland research projects are funded by the NHMRC. A significant budget cut means projects like these may not be funded in the future:

  • A project sequencing the genomes of 500 pancreatic and ovarian cancers to compare the genetic differences between normal tissue and tumours (IMB)
  • The long-term study of the human papilloma virus (HPV) and Professor Ian Frazer’s development of the first cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil (The UQ Diamantina Institute)
  • The therapeutic development of a novel drug for spinal cord injuries (QBI)
  • Exploring the best rescue strategies for premature babies, as well as combating super bugs and antibiotic resistance (UQ Health Sciences)
  • Projects designed to prevent acute exacerbations of asthma in children and prevention of chronic suppurative lung disease (QCMRI)
  • Research at the QIMR and the University of Queensland into the human genetic disorder ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a debilitating disease of childhood, has been instrumental in the  establishment of a clinic at the Royal Children’s Hospital for the treatment and management of the disorder.
  • Life saving immunotherapy trials for advanced melanoma patients (QIMR)

More information can be found on the Discoveries Need Dollars website.  

Media Contacts:

Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR)

Sarah Tennant, Science Communication Manager

07 3362 0291 or 0458 650 200

The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB),

Bronwyn Adams, Communications Manager

07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247

Queensland Brain Institute

Denise Cullen, Executive Communications Officer 

07 3346 6434

Diamantina Institute

Caroline Davy, Communications Manager

07 3176 6623

UQ Faculty of Health Sciences

Marlene McKendry, Communications Manager

07 3346 4713 or 0401 996 847

Mater Medical Research Institute

 Jacqui Hayes, Senior Public Affairs Officer

3136 2378

QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI)

Ross Young, Executive Director

Wesley Research Institute

Jason Davidson, Marketing Manager

07 3721 1508

Queensland Children's Medical Research Institute

Marcus Engeman, Chief Operating Officer 

07 3636 1263