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Research cuts put health at risk

The federal government’s rumoured $400 million cuts to the National Health and Medical Research Council budget will not only set back health and medical research, it’ll cost lives.

This sober prediction has been made by countless health experts, academics and researchers who fear even the smallest of funding cuts will be damaging to all Australians.

“It will impact on the capacity to improve the health of Australians through research and development. We will no longer be able to test new interventions, study new models of care, understand how best to use the limited health workforce we have and develop strategies to improve quality and safety,” said Caroline Homer, professor of midwifery at UTS.

In a letter to Minister for Health Nicola Roxon on behalf of the country’s leading maternity service researchers, Homer said any funding cuts, even small, would affect future research and development of Australia.

“Any funding cuts will mean there will be no evidence to make long term decisions about the health system - something that will put Australia behind the rest of the world for decades,” she wrote.

“The only way to reduce health costs is through continued strong investment in health and medical research and funding cuts of any amount will mean the capacity to do this is gone.”
Homer also said job-loss was a major concern.

“The research workforce will all lose their jobs - not to mention how many years it will take to reverse the ‘brain drain’ that would result. PhD students will diminish in number and people will leave research forever.

“Even one year’s cut will have an impact for years to come by researchers leaving the work force and students refusing to enter it. The amount saved on the overall budget is minimal but the impact on medical research is enormous.”

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research director Doug Hilton said the government was wrong if it thought ‘ordinary Australians’ would happily accept the cut. “While it may not be something that the general public thinks about every day, medical research is behind the increases in the average lifespan and quality of life that we enjoy in Australia.

“I can guarantee there is not a single person in Australia who has not reaped the benefits of medical research. This cut will mean that ordinary Australians will be denied the benefits of research-driven improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of our biggest disease challenges: cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease, to name a few.

“To be blunt, years of healthy living, especially for the elderly, will be reduced and lives will be unnecessarily lost. It’s a real shame that the government is even considering risking the lives of ordinary Australians when our economy continues to be one of the strongest in the world.”

Also outraged is Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Director, Professor Terry Dwye. “People expect that when children get sick doctors and nurses know what to do to make them better,” he said.

“This knowledge comes from research. A cut in research funding will have a direct impact on the future health of Australian children and families, significantly impacting on our ability to address the big issues currently affecting child health like allergies, diabetes, premature birth, cancer and genetic disorders.”

However, Treasurer Wayne Swan has further hosed down speculation that medical research funding could be slashed in the May budget.

It’s been reported that federal Labor’s so-called “razor gang” this week rejected a proposal to cut $400 million from medical research in the budget.

Swan, a member of the expenditure review committee, says he had a very long meeting with medical researchers on April 19.

“I think some of the statements (regarding cuts) that have been made by some people on this matter are just plain wrong,” the treasurer said.

“I can’t rule things in or out of this budget but I tell you what, we’ve got a proud record on medical research ... and I’m sure that that will remain the case.”

Swan said he was serious about medical research because it saved lives and improved people’s quality of life.

“As a cancer survivor I understand that personally,” he said.

“This government has been a huge supporter of medical research and delivered quantum increases each year in every budget I’ve delivered.”

With AAP

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