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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1589

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 12 February 2008:

In regard to the approximately 300 000 Australians suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS):

(1)   Is the Minister prepared to provide the necessary funds for the establishment of a research facility and centre of excellence for ME/CFS, in order to address the lack of biomedical research into the illness.

(2) (a)   Will funds and access to expert resources be provided to improve support services to sufferers and their carers and to raise awareness within the community on management and prevention strategies; and (b) will support and funding be provided to the national association, ME/CFS Australia.

Senator Ludwig (Minister for Human Services) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Australian Government funding for all areas of research relevant to human health and medical research is provided through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The NHMRC provides research support through a variety of mechanisms, including support for individual research projects, broad programs of research, training awards for scholars and postdoctoral fellows, career research fellowships and special strategic research programs. The NHMRC administers a program for Centres of Clinical Research Excellence (CCRE). This program is advertised annually and research grants are provided for periods of five years. The aim of the CCRE is to support clinical (human) research with potential to lead to improved health outcomes for the community and to ensure the effective translation of research outcomes into clinical practice. As with all NHMRC funding schemes, applications for CCRE funding are based on competitive peer review with the most significant research proposals funded on the basis of scientific merit. Recommendations for awarding grants are submitted to the NHMRC Research Committee and Council before approvals by the CEO are forwarded to the Minister for Health and Ageing. In the last round of this program, which commenced in 2007, a total $12 million was awarded to six CCRE grants. The next call for Expressions of Interest for the CCRE program will be advertised in May 2008. The NHMRC is currently funding research involving chronic fatigue syndrome which is being undertaken over five years at the University of New South Wales. The grant total is $537,500.

(2)   There are currently no separately identified funds for support services for ME/CFS sufferers or their carers or to raise awareness of ME/CFS management and prevention including through funding of the national association. People with ME/CFS however are able to access a range of primary care services under the Medical Benefits Schedule including items intended specifically to enhance primary care of people with chronic diseases. As well, carers can access a range of assistance and supports through the Commonwealth Carelink Centres. These act as a single point for access to information about, and referral to, community care services, which may be of assistance to suffers of ME/CFS or their carers.