Don’t get carried away, our medical research funding fight isn’t over

The Government still hasn’t officially ruled out NHMRC budget cuts. AAP

Medical researchers breathed a sigh of relief this morning after seeing the News Limited report that cuts to health and medical research were no longer on the table.

Although the signs from senior government officials are positive, it’s too early to get carried away.

The Discoveries Need Dollars campaign has involved many of the usual medical research faces – Nobel Laureates, Institute Directors, Australians of The Year, and Members of the Learned Academies.

What has made this campaign different is the grass roots verve and vigour delivered by the students, postdoctoral scientists, patients, families and community advocates through social media.

The huge positive to emerge from the campaign is that the government and the medical research sector have been reminded by the community that what we do – whether we are successful in our endeavours to prevent or cure disease or not – is important to the community because we provide hope.

For many Australians, it’s medical research, not the government of the day, that is the light on the hill. For the last six weeks the government has overlooked the power of this message – at its peril.

It seems the tide has now turned. Government, at senior levels, now understands the importance of medical research to the community and I am hopeful we can stave off the cuts.

The important question for us to ask is: “how did we get to the point where the Government even considered medical research for budget cuts?”

The answer, I believe, is that over the past five years we, as medical researchers, failed to engage with government.

We failed to mobilise the community and we failed to paint a picture of why medical research is important to this country’s future. We failed to present a compelling vision.

We now have an opportunity to re-engage with the government and provide a conduit between the community, the research sector and government.

We need to develop a decade-long plan for medical research which articulates out our vision for:

  • Sustaining the basic research engine.

  • Translating discoveries from the bench to the bedside and back again quickly and efficiently.

  • Preventing disease through population health and epidemiological research.

  • Delivering first-class health care in an economically sustainable manner despite enormous demographic challenges.

Rather than putting out fires at budget time (as we have done on this occasion) we should produce a vision for all political parties.

We must make the medical research sector more vibrant, more responsive and more capable of delivering the outcomes Australians expect and demand.