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Skills Crisis in Health and Medical Research

January 10 2017 - Job insecurity among workers in the Health and Medical Research sector is leading to an impending skills crisis, according to The Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR).

Releasing the initial findings of the November 2016 survey of more than 1200 Australian health and medical researchers, Dr Dan Johnstone, ASMR President, said:

"Sadly, the data confirmed our 2015 findings regarding an alarming lack of job security; yet again, almost a quarter of respondents were unsure of whether they would be employed in 2017. This represents a devastating loss of intellectual capital and highly-skilled researchers - such losses are not sustainable if Australia is to maintain a world-class health and medical research sector and forge a path towards a knowledge-based economy".

According to the society, the consequences of a depleting health and medical research workforce are that breakthrough research in critical areas such as childhood cancer, heart disease and mental health won't be converted into prevention and treatment methods.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia’s chief funding body, has supported research showing that every $1 invested brings health and economic returns of more than $3. Despite a stringent expert review process ensuring that only the highest quality and most significant research is supported, investment into the NHMRC during the past 5 years has not kept up with the number of quality applications submitted. NHMRC expects investment between 2000 and 2015 to provide net returns of more than $1.5 billion per annum. If that investment was raised to just 3% of health spend, net returns would increase by an additional $4.1 billion per year.

Warning that the research sector should not be assuming that the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) will provide a solution to the problem, Dr Johnstone stressed that the MRFF is a 'value add' rather than being the 'basis of' Australia’s health and medical research success. He said:

"While a worthy initiative in its own right, the MRFF is not a magic bullet; it is primarily aimed at clinical translation and commercialisation which must be built upon a solid foundation of discovery-driven basic research supported by the NHMRC".

The society's media release concludes that "There has never been a more important time for capable, informed and bold leadership focussed on the long-term wellbeing of all Australians, particularly in the area of health, if Australia is to meet the rhetoric of being an aspirational nation with an empowered population into the future".

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