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Rapporteur report

Simon Harris, TD, Minister for Health

30 January 2017

Investing in evidence and outcomes – through health research

Watch Minister Harris's presentation on You Tube at the link below

Quick summary: 

  • We need to communicate how health research improves outcomes for patients 
  • HRB-funded research provides evidence for therapies, processes and policies to improve the delivery of healthcare 
  • An All-Party Committee on the Future of Healthcare will develop a 10-year roadmap for health policy in Ireland. 

To improve healthcare in Ireland, it’s not just about how much money we invest, but also what we do with research funding to get better outcomes for patients. 

The importance of health research and the need to communicate its findings were key messages that Minister for Health Simon Harris, TD, emphasised at the Health Research Board 30 event in Dublin Castle on November 30th.

‘Health research is not something abstract, it is vital to develop new, evidence-based treatments, procedures and policies’, said Minister Harris, whose opening address set the tone for a day that explored the impacts of research on healthcare delivery.

Investment in action 

Since the HRB was established in 1986, Ireland has invested more than 650 million Euros in health research, and funding for the HRB in 2016 has been 43.8m. 

Yet while many column inches are filled with discussions of budget size, we need more discussion about how what we do with health research funding achieves better outcomes for patients, according to Minister Harris.  

‘It is not just the obsession that we have in this country about talking about the size of the health budget’, he said. ‘The dialogue we really need to have is about what we do with that health budget’. 

Research is a key factor in promoting the health of the population in combatting disease, in reducing disability and in improving quality of care, he explained: ‘It is fundamental to the effective and efficient delivery of health services and…knowledge derived from research is critical in providing the evidence base for better health policy, for better practices and better safety’.  

Evidence for outcomes 

The Minister cited examples arising from HRB-funded research, including the introduction of safer stents, drugs for people who have suffered a stroke, electronic patients records for people with epilepsy and gene-based tests to figure out who will respond best to forms of chemotherapy. 

‘Every treatment, every medical device, every procedure and every policy available in our health service today was developed from a good research idea that was proven and implemented in practice’, stated Minister Harris. ‘A research-active healthcare service though does not happen in any way shape or form by accident, it is not something that just falls from the sky. It requires a dedicated infrastructure, excellent people and novel ideas’.  

Looking to the future  

Taking a broader view, Minister Harris described how health research is a part of our knowledge economy and contributes to Ireland’s economic growth and international competitiveness, and he stressed the need for long-term political and societal consensus on the future direction of health policy in Ireland. ‘We can make and we are making improvements to our health service but we are doing it a massive disservice by having no long-term political plan. We are doing it a huge disservice by having a plan that only ever lasts the duration of a Minister in office… we have to stop playing politics with the health service’ he said.  

‘That is why we in the Oireachtas have established an All-Party Committee on the Future of Healthcare tasked with coming up with a 10-year roadmap for the health service that will say to our patients and those working in the health service when the Minister changes the plan doesn’t change. That will provide a degree of certainty that has quite frankly been lacking in the Irish healthcare service, certainly over the last 30 years that the HRB has been in existence’.  

Further horizons 

The Minister also encouraged health researchers to have their voices heard in the international community, particularly post-Brexit: ‘Our door to Europe remains firmly open, including in the area of research. [There are] opportunities for Ireland to embed itself as a key location for research within the EU and it is important that the health sector is clearly heard’.

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