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Medical research fund a Budget sweetener

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The Federal Government will direct funds from unpopular measures including the GP co-payment and cuts to hospital and health prevention funding to create a dedicated fund for medical research.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has made the Medical Research Future Fund a major sales pitch for his first Budget as he tries to shift the focus of debate away from heavy cuts and imposts and dull some of the political pain the Government is likely to have suffered as a result of its tough Budget measures.

Money from the GP co-payment and other sources will begin to flow into the Fund from 2015, with plans for it to grow sufficiently to dispense about $1 billion in research funds each year by 2022-23.

“The Medical Research Future Fund will receive all the savings from the introduction of a $7 Medicare co-contribution, modest changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and other responsible changes in this Health Budget, until the Fund reaches $20 billion,” Mr Hockey said.

“I can think of no more significant benefit from community contributions in health than to invest in cure and discovery research,” the Treasurer said. “As a result, it may be an Australian who discovers better treatments, and even cures, for dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease or cancer.”

But, although the Fund will reach $20 billion, only the interest from it will be used to fund research, and many details of the plan remain unclear, including who will own and derive financial benefit from any research breakthroughs that are commercialised.

There are also concerns about the capacity of the medical research community to absorb and efficiently use the big flow of funds, which will be in addition to money coming from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said that although the Fund was a welcome initiative, it should not come at the cost of more expensive access to GPs and medicine.

Adrian Rollins