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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 570

Dr Blewett asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 13 May 1980:

Has he examined the question of giving greater emphasis to research projects aimed at reducing health care costs in the allocation of health research funds as recommended by the Australian Science and Technology Council; if so, has he taken any steps to ensure this shift of emphasis.

Mr MacKellar - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

In addition to medical research supported through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH and MRC), my Department also administers the Health Services Research and Development Grants Program, a program having two fundamental objectives. The first is to support research into the effectiveness and efficiency of various health care activities and procedures in the context of promoting efficient and effective services. The second objective of the program is to support the development, testing and evaluation of innovative health care services which may be cost-effective alternatives to existing services.

Since its inception in 1973, some 170 research projects have been funded under this program. In 1979-80, a total of $ 1.8m was spent both in project grants and matched grants to the States. This whole program is aimed at researching ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health care services in Australia.

So far as medical research is concerned, the NH & MRC funds only high quality research which is demonstrated, after examination by a complex peer review system, to be of a sufficiently high level of scientific merit to warrant support. This concentration on 'excellence' as the criterion for support has also been endorsed by the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC) in its report on 'Direct Funding of Basic Research'.

The NH & MRC is well aware of the need to obtain the best value from each research dollar and continues to support research initiatives relating to health care costs. These have included, inter alia, a multiphasic health screening study and the establishment of a health economics and an epidemiology research unit. More importantly, however, the high level of support of project grants in hospitals and universities, directly affects medical education and training and thus the quality of health care provided to patients.

The NH & MRC, in formulating its proposals for the development of medical research, has paid close attention to the thrust of the ASTEC recommendation to which the honourable member referred. A number of initiatives have been proposed which have considerable implication for health care costs, including research into addictive behaviour, traffic accidents and evaluation of patient care and treatment procedures.

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