Govt to scope health and medical research workforce

Brandon How

The Health department has ordered an independent audit of Australia’s health and medical research workforce to inform the development of national policy amid a “paucity of recent data”.

The Department of Health and Aged Care on Friday issued an approach to market (ATM) seeking a supplier to undertake the audit. It must include an evaluation of the sector “along the research pathway from basic, translation, through to implementation and commercialisation”, among several other issues.

The supplier will have a budget of up to $200,000 to undertake the audit, which must include a review of existing health and medical research workforce data and a new survey of the sector.

A plan for future monitoring, to be implemented after the completion of the audit, must also be part of the audit.

There are six key themes that the audit will hope to shed light on. These are the demographics of the research workforce, funding support, capability strengths and gaps, diversity of training and professional development available, diversity of research pathways and attrition, and international exchange.

Health and medical research makes up a large proportion of total research and development (R&D) expenditure in Australia.

At higher education institutions, the largest R&D spend is in biomedical and clinical sciences, with health sciences and biological sciences ranking third and fourth respectively. Within government agencies, biomedical and clinical sciences make up the second highest expense while biological sciences make up the fourth largest.

The National Health and Medical Research Council alone awarded more than $900 million across 686 grants last year.

Despite the continued flow of R&D funding to health and medical research, there has been a “a paucity of recent data on the Australian health and medical research workforce”, according to the ATM.  Past surveys and grant funding statistics have shown “job insecurity and attrition” is an issue.

“Concurrently, there is a general call from the sector for support for researchers to be improved, particularly job security, training and career development/pathways,” the document reads.

A key focus of the federal government’s National Medical Workforce Strategy 2021-2031 is to use “data and evidence to develop and maintain a high-quality, effective, and week-distributed medical workforce”.

Reform to research career pathways and researcher performance metrics are of increasing interest to the federal government, with other initiatives also underway through the Department of Education and Office of the Chief Scientist.

A key pillar of work for the Education Department’s University Trailblazer program is to improve incentives and career advancement for researchers that spend time collaborating with or working in industry.

This complements the findings of a report on ‘modernising research assessment’ released by the Office of the Chief Scientist last November.

The selected service delivery partner will be expected to deliver several interim and draft reports between April and July 2024, with the final report and future monitoring plan to be submitted by July 2024. Applications to undertake the audit conclude on March 8.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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