Since their formal acknowledgment as Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres (AHRTC) by the NHMRC, the four Australian centres (Monash Partners, Sydney Health Partners, SA Academic Health Science and Translation Centre and Melbourne Academic Centre for Health) have been meeting regularly with the NHMRC and also have been building a national alliance. Over the last year the Centres have engaged with the NHMRC, which has enabled a series of meetings with productive dialogue about common interests and joint challenges in research and healthcare.
The Centres have recently agreed to create a more formal alliance to collaborate strategically and practically in the integration and delivery of health and medical research, translation into improved health outcomes improved clinical practice, teaching and education. One of the goals of the Alliance is to work collaboratively and productively with the NHMRC. The Alliance has also proved relevant in engaging with the Commonwealth Department of Health in response to the opportunities offered by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) as outlined below.
Early in November the MRFF released its Strategic plan 2016-2021 and its priorities for 2016-2018. Both of these MRFF documents refer to the AHRTC’s as a vehicle for collaborative research and funding.
Late November, NHMRC hosted a meeting of AHRTC Council Chairs and Executive Directors and on request arranged for representatives of the Department responsible for the MRFF, to present and discuss opportunities. On December 8th, the Executive Directors of the four AHRTC’s met with representatives of the Department responsible for the MRFF to discuss the possible funding options for research and translation through the AHRTC’s.
These exploratory and iterative discussions will continue over the coming weeks to months and a better understanding of the opportunities will emerge. To summarise current discussions:
- We jointly recognise the great potential of the AHRTC’s to advance translational research in Australia, both as individual Centres, and as an Alliance
- The MRFF is likely to support research and translation programs that address a diverse range of research and healthcare challenges, and has expressed a particular interest in public and patient engagement in research.
- The Department is exploring the potential advantages of supporting some of the MRFF priority activities through the AHRTC’s.
- Given the short time frame, opportunities for the MRFF to work with the AHRTC’s through the Alliance have emerge
- Given the iterative process, it is highly advantageous for us to be agile and responsive and to work with government to identify existing systems level priorities and projects that can be quickly expanded or accelerated to deliver public benefit and/or rapidly initiated in response to opportunities arising from the first two years of funding.
- The AHRTC’s have been asked to work with the Department to develop concepts and ideas for future funding of research and translation through the national Alliance and, if requested to do so, to put forward specific proposals or projects for such programs.
At this stage the Department is not in a position to provide guidance on whether and how much money may be available to support the AHRTCs. This will be clarified as the MRFF processes and our discussions progress. We have agreed to work together in the coming months in an iterative process to align the priorities of the MRFF with the AHRTC’s aims and existing priorities. Our current understanding is that the Department will advise the Federal Minister for Health in February on pathways for funding dispersion and further detail on timelines is pending.
At present we are collaborating through the Alliance and developing a joint concept brief for the Department including strategic practical ideas aligned with the MRFF priorities that may work across the AHRTCs at a systems level, ), and those that operate from individual AHRTC’s with shared learnings.
As greater clarity is forthcoming concurrently each of the AHRTCs will be developing ideas and potential projects that may be collaborative across and individually within each AHRTC aligned with established local priorities, future plans and processes. We aim to ensure that as opportunities emerge through the MRFF, we are optimally positioned to respond positively and quickly. Should funds become available, it is understood that administrative and operational activities would continue to be managed through the individual AHRTCs and their partner organisations with processes akin to a program grant run across multiple institutions, with ongoing collaboration and shared learnings across the AHRTCs.
FRAMEWORK OF THE PROGRAM
The MRFF priorities outline that the AHRTC’s should focus on the following issues:
- Clinical pathways and care transition: by building collaboration across the care continuum, enhancing data integration and strengthening health services, implementation, and public and preventive research capacity and activity,
- Clinical variation: by driving data linkage and integration as key to understanding and reducing unwarranted variation in clinical care and outcome,
- Improving the health of vulnerable groups including those with chronic disease / co-morbidities, those towards the end of life and disadvantaged ethnic and Indigenous groups.
We have proposed that the AHRTC’s are ideally positioned to deliver on other identified MRFF priorities too and the following have been discussed:
– training and supporting Practitioner and Translational Research in Practice fellowships
– establishing the proposed National institute on Health Services, and Public and Preventive health research within the AHRTC Alliance
– contributing in clinical research, bringing together all key partners in clinical research and offering efficiencies of scale and population reach
The AHRTC’s will be developing our concept brief (they have specified this is not a proposal at present), based on the iterative discussions with the Department. We will continue our dialogue with those responsible for the MRFF and will finalise the process in February with an anticipated joint proposal. We will continue to keep you informed and engage as appropriate during this new and evolving process.
Prof Helena Teede, Director, Monash Partners