New Zealanders for Health Research (NZHR) has written to all current parliamentary parties, as set out below, pointing out both the current level of government underinvestment in health research and the absence of any recommendations in the Health and Disability System Report for embedding health research as an essential component of the health system. The Labour Party’s response, received today, is as follows:

“Many thanks again for the opportunity to outline Labour’s commitment to supporting improved health outcomes through high-quality health research.

Our population faces both long-term challenges, and short-term threats in health. Labour recognises the importance of research and innovation in keeping New Zealanders healthy and preventing premature deaths now, and in the future. We are committed to improving health outcomes for New Zealanders. We’re balancing investment across our short- and long-term challenges to ensure we are protecting people’s health in light of the COVID-19 crisis, while continuing to prioritise improved outcomes in other areas.

We are ensuring that groups who have not been as well-served by our health system in the past are prioritised in health research. Successful HRC applications this year included projects driven by kaupapa Māori and Pacific research methodologies, alongside projects focused on our biggest health concerns, like asthma, heart disease, and mental wellbeing.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of an agile and capable health research ecosystem in New Zealand. We’ve responded to that need in Government with the $25 million COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund, which is supporting projects including in COVID-19 antibody detection, developing innovative ventilators, and early stage research investigating the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. We’ve allocated a further $37 million to the COVID-19 vaccine strategy, of which $10 million will be used to support research in New Zealand, and $15 million is earmarked for international research collaboration. This funding will advance discovery, development, testing and supply of a COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to this, we’ve allocated significant extra funding, in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, to access a safe and effective vaccine when it becomes available.

This is on top of the significant work Labour has done in Government to improve health outcomes across the board, especially in areas that had been neglected under the previous Government, and where we have seen inequitable outcomes for some New Zealanders. We’re investing to build up the capacity of our services after years of underfunding, including record capital investments to rebuild rundown facilities, and the biggest ever funding increase for DHBs. We’re rolling out frontline mental health services, re-establishing the Mental Health Commission, and investing significantly in mental health and addiction facilities. We’ve launched the Cancer Action Plan, and created the Cancer Control Agency.

We’ve started work to develop New Zealand’s Research, Science and innovation strategy, which will guide the direction of Government investment in RSI, and help us to ensure our RSI system is optimised for success. Part of the focus of this will be sustainably increasing RSI funds, including the Endeavour Fund, the Marsden Fund and the Health Research Council. The Health Research Strategy is a key part of our overall RSI Strategy, which ensures that our research in this area is aligned with the needs of our health system and focused on research excellence and establishing connections.

We’re also focused on equitable outcomes for those who haven’t been as well-served by our health system in the past, including Māori and Pasifika. Māori and Pacific healthcare providers moved quickly to provide whānau-centred health services during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, and we saw that this approach works. A recent research report by Moana Research, Ihi Research and FEM Limited highlighted that commissioning for outcomes, rather than widgets has the potential to reduce health inequities, and recommends an adaptive, high-trust commissioning environment between the Crown, Māori and Pacific providers, whānau and hapori/communities, to enable a whānau-centred approach. The results of the research project will inform the development of a business case by the Ministry of Health to further invest in whānau and community-led service provision. The results will also contribute to the State Sector’s ‘Wellbeing’ policy framework, and Case for Change to scale up a whānau-centred approach to primary health care for Māori and Pacific communities. We’ve already boosted Whānau Ora, and we’re launching Whakamaua, the Māori Health action plan. But there’s more work to do, and we’re committed to achieving equitable health outcomes, informed by high quality research.

Ngā mihi,

Kelle Howson | Senior Researcher
Labour Leader’s Office
DDI +64 4 817 9411 | 027 320 2476

Authorised by Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern MP, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

On 10th September, following the postponement of the 2020 General Election until October 17th, NZHR re-wrote to all current parliamentary parties stating that we believe that it’s time for health research to be an election issue, and seeking to ascertain each party’s health research policies on:

  1. Increasing government investment in health research
  2. Including health research within the health system as a key enabler of improved health outcomes

The text of the remainder of our email was as follows:

“In late May of this year we carried out the fifth in our series of annual public opinion polls, ascertaining the importance that the voting public places on health research. This year’s poll was undertaken by Kantar, was based on a representative sample of 1000 respondents, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

Three quarters said that the government should invest more funding in health research, 79% said that health research investment should be a government priority and 35% said that they would be more likely to vote for a party which promised to increase the government’s health research budget.

The government’s 2020 health research allocation is a meagre 0.76% of health care costs – less in percentage terms than the 2019 allocation – and falling. Furthermore, the Health and Disability System Review report makes no recommendations that would embed health research as an essential component of health service delivery, despite the fact that 12,000 New Zealanders per year are dying prematurely.

NZHR maintains that to serve kiwis well, and for New Zealand to be pulling its weight internationally, government investment in health research should as a minimum stand at 2.4% of government health care costs, and that this should be achieved by 2027 which is the time frame for implementation of the government’s Health Research Strategy.

In the lead up to the 2020 election NZHR is letting voters know why we think that New Zealand’s “health research system fails the team of 5 million”, together with political parties’ policy positions so that they can make informed voting decisions. A copy of our recent media release is attached (here) for your information and the link to the headline version of the 2020 poll results is here , noting that we’ve already provided you with a hard copy of the full poll report.

We’re intending that our campaigning to the voting public will commence in the week commencing 21st September, so would be grateful if your reply could be sent to us by close of business Friday 18th September.”

NZHR advocates for increased investment in health research. It is an alliance chaired by Graham Malaghan, of the Wellington-based Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and supported by universities, clinical research organisations, and organisations representing both the philanthropic and pharmaceutical industry sectors. For more information visit https://www.nz4healthresearch.org.nz/

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