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Further news about Federal funding for primary health care research

As with most developed countries, Australia’s health system is under ongoing pressure due to increasing health costs and rising rates of chronic disease. The good news is that there is enough research and data available, from both national and international sources, to provide clear direction for our future primary health care policies.

In short, the research overwhelmingly shows that our best chance of meeting future health care challenges is to develop a strong, high performing and universally accessible primary health care system.

The bad news, however, is that some key primary health care research and information services have had their funding cut by the current Government. These programs provide vital information and support for researchers working in the area of health services research and directly inform the development of policies and programs in this area.

In the following update on the status of these important primary health care research and information programs, Dr Lesley Russell challenges the primary health care research community (and interested others) to stop being complacent about the future of these organisations and to advocate for their continuation.

Lesley Russell writes:

This is a brief follow-up to my piece in Croakey about the failure of the Turnbull Government to make any announcement about the future of the Primary Health Care Research, Evaluation and Development (PHCRED Strategy) and the implications of this for the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI), located at ANU, the Primary Health Care Research Information Service (PHCRIS), located at Flinders University, and funding for primary health care research generally.

While I have not been privy to any specific information about decisions made or being made by the Commonwealth Government, I have picked up the following (I am unable to vouch for its accuracy):

  1. APHCRI will not receive any further funding and will close its doors on December 21, 2015. The National Centre for Geographic and Research Analysis in Primary Care (GRAPHC) has been transferred to the Research School of Population Health at ANU and the School has received some modest, short term funds to assume the management of those Centres for Research Excellence and research streams which have continuing funding (in some cases for up to two more years).
  2. PHCRIS has been funded for a further six months.
  3. Responsibility for primary health care research within the Department of Health has been moved from the primary care branch to the branch that manages the NHMRC and the MRFF.  This apparently involves only one FTE. Note that an Assistant Secretary to head up the Health and Medical Research Branch has not been named following the departmental reorganisation.
  4. It seems that a decision about future federal support for primary health care research has yet to be made; it is likely contingent on work around the 2016-17 Budget so an announcement may not be forthcoming before May 2016.
  5. There are some indications that primary health care research – or at least its management – will be a contestability program. The implications of this are manifold and varied.While my original article was well read (shared 28 times on Facebook and Tweeted 112 times) only the Australasian Association for Academic Primary Care spoke out in support. There was no response from professional and academic organisations, politicians or even the very researchers who have been funded over the years under the PHCRED strategy. Obviously I am not a disinterested bystander, but it is disappointing that there is a level of complacency about the future of something as central to an effective, efficient and sustainable health care system as primary health care research, evaluation and implementation.

Dr Lesley Russell was previously a Visiting Fellow at APHCRI