Written Answers. - Medical Research.

Mary Wallace

Question:

272 Miss M. Wallace asked the Minister for Health his priorities for supporting medical research over the coming year. [16913/96]

Mary Wallace

Question:

273 Miss M. Wallace asked the Minister for Health the amount of money allocated by his Department for medical research; the number of projects funded; the average funding for each project; the number of applications for funding received; the average waiting time for the consideration of applications; and his involvment in supporting medical research priorities. [16914/96]

Limerick East): I propose taking Questions Nos. 272 and 273 together.

As applications for funding for medical research are not normally received in my Department, information is not collected and readily available to allow a comprehensive answer to be provided to the Deputy in the manner in which the question was set. However, based on the information available, the position is as follows.

The Health Research Board is the main mechanism through which State funding is channelled to medical and related research. The board is funded by an annual grant from the Health Vote though it also receives some funding from other sources — mainly bequests or interest from bequests which have been invested. The Health Research Board was established on 1 January 1987 following the amalgamation of the Medical Research Council and the Medico-Social Research Board.

The board's primary function is to promote, assist, commission or conduct medical, health and health services research and such epidemiological research as may appropriately be carried out at national level. In addition the board assists and supports other health agencies in promoting or conducting epidemiological research and liaises and co-operates with other research bodies in Ireland or elsewhere in promoting, commissioning or conducting relevant research. The board is also the co-ordinating body in Ireland for the EU's main initiative in the health research area, the BIOMED-2 Programme. This is part of the EU's Fourth Framework Programme for research and technology. There are no national allocations under this programme and initial applications are currently being processed.
The annual grant to the Health Research Board in 1996 is £2.79 million. In addition there is a specific allocation to the board of £100,000 to conduct research into the area of hepatitis C. The board considers all applications for funding and allocates funding to projects on a competitive basis subject to the board's peer review process whereby experts in the field assess the merits of each individual project.
The principal funding mechanisms utilised by the board relate to (i) research units, (ii) research project grants. As regards research units, a two stage application procedure is utilised — outline proposals are first invited and those short-listed are invited to make full proposals. The most recent competition for research units resulted as follows:

Outline Proposals Received

74

Invited to Make Full Proposals

24

Recommended for Funding

5

Projects Retained on Reserve List

4

The average funding for a unit grant is £75,000 per annum for a maximum period of five years. Processing of research unit applications takes on average six months.
As regards research project grants, in 1996, 161 applications were received of which five were deemed ineligible. The remaining 156 were assessed by the board's research committees and 60 new projects were recommended for funding with the total cost for the first year being £592,035. The average funding per project is £10,000 and the overall success rate is better than 1 in 3.
In the current year, the closing date for receipt of research project grant applications was 1 March 1996 and funding decisions were taken at the board's meeting of 15 May 1996. It should also be noted that decisions on the funding of hepatitis C projects will be taken in October 1996.
While the main publicly funded health research effort is channelled through the HRB, my Department also funds a number of other research initiatives as follows. Since 1990 the Department of Health has paid the Health Research Board to carry out the National Psychiatric In-Patient Reporting System (NIPRS) on its behalf. The cost of this system to the Department was £7,289 in 1995 and 1996 costs are expected to be in the region of £82,000; the Economic and Social Research Institute assumed responsibility for the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) scheme in 1990. The cost of this scheme to the Department in 1995 was £312,602 and the estimated cost in 1996 is expected to be £300,000; though not specifically identified as such, the allocation for teaching hospitals includes an element of research funding. This encompasses the routine science and technology activities of radiologists, pathologists, biochemists, physicists, computer and related paramedical (e.g. laboratory) staff; my Department's health promotion unit has a budget for 1996 in excess of £2.8 million. In addition, the HPU funds a Chair of Health Promotion at University College, Galway at an annual cost of £50,000. Though not specifically designated as medical research, the HPU's activities represent a considerable element of research and consultancy in the health field; the National Cancer Registry Board was established in 1991. The functions of the board are to identify, collect, classify, record, store and analyse information relating to the incidence and prevalence of cancer and related tumours in Ireland; to collect, classify, record and store information in relation to each newly diagnosed individual cancer patient and in relation to each tumour which occurs; to promote and facilitate the use of data thus collected in approved research projects and in the planning and management of services and to publish an annual report based on the activities of the Registry. The NCRB is funded by the Exchequer and in 1996 the annual grant to the board was £490,000; and a number of other research projects are funded from time to time from my Department's consultancy subhead. Currently a pregnancy research project is being conducted by the Department of Social Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1995 a sum of £50,000 was allocated to this proposed to fund an autism study from this subhead to be conducted by the Irish Society for Autism at an estimated cost of £20,000.
The Health Research Board will continue to be the main mechanism through which publicly funded health research is conducted in Ireland. The work of the National Cancer Registry Board is also an area of high priority and upon taking office I set as a priority within my Department the development of services to combat cancer. My Department is fully aware of the importance of medical research in the area of public health. Our goal will be to develop a public health research strategy which will both respect the need for high quality research and fit public health policy objectives. These objectives were outlined in the Department of Health's four year action planShaping a Healthier Future — A Strategy for Effective Healthcare in the 1990's and were given further shape in my Department's document A Health Promotion Strategy. The significant features of the strategy are to encourage people to take responsibility for their own health and to provide the environmental support necessary to achieve this; and to provide a high quality health service underpinned by the three principles of equity, quality and accountability.