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Rehabilitation and injury prevention: investing in health research for the benefit of New Zealand.

In 2009 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development identified the rising costs of healthcare as the biggest threat to the sustainability of New Zealand's economy (OECD 2009). There are several well-recognised drivers for the rising tide of health sector costs, not the least of which is the coincidence of an aging population and the "epidemic" of long term disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Despite the current fiscal environment, there is a strong case, now more than ever, for high quality health research that addresses the pressing health and health sector issues facing New Zealand. Good research is a tool to uncover ways to lift the health of New Zealanders, and to get ahead of the curve of rising costs.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) is the government's principal, but not sole, funding agency for public good health research. At any one time, the HRC has 320-350 active research contracts valued at $260-270M. At present, research is being supported in more than 30 different organisations, by a research workforce of 2,300 positions (equivalent to around 570 full time posts). HRC funds the highest quality research, using selection processes based on open contestability and peer review.

Through the investment in high quality health research, and the development of the health research workforce, the HRC seeks to create new diagnostics, treatments, technologies and services, to produce the evidence upon which the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability of New Zealand's healthcare system can be improved, and to contribute to New Zealanders living longer, healthier, more independent and productive lives.

The HRC prioritises support for high quality research in rehabilitation, and injury prevention. New Zealand has a small but skilled and productive research workforce in these areas. Rehabilitation and injury prevention research are specifically identified in the HRC's Investment Signals, the documents that outline the scope, goals and high level priorities for health research investment by the HRC.

In the broader context, the HRC has determined priorities for health research, based on opportunities and needs, and supports research in four broad areas, called Research Investment Streams (HRC 2011). Currently, the four Streams are:

* New Zealand Health Delivery, supporting research leading to innovation and improvement in health service delivery and planning;

* Improving Outcomes for Acute and Chronic Conditions in New Zealand, for research that will improve the understanding and management of disease and disability impacting on the lives of New Zealanders;

* Rangahau Hauora Maori, for research that builds an evidence base for Maori health gains, by utilising and advancing Maori knowledge, resources and people, and

* Health and Wellbeing in New Zealand, which supports research on maintaining health and wellbeing throughout the life course.

There are opportunities in each of the four Research Investment Streams for appropriately targeted injury and rehabilitation research. For example, research on prevention of injury that is associated with substantial mortality, morbidity or social cost in New Zealand is a research priority in Health and Wellbeing, and research on rehabilitation for a specific disease or injury is within the scope of Improving Outcomes for Acute and Chronic Conditions. Research on innovations in rehabilitation technologies or service delivery fits within New Zealand Health Delivery.

HRC looks to fund the good idea presented in such a way that it makes a compelling case, backed with a robust research methodology, carried out by a researcher or team that has the skills to deliver the research. Increasingly, HRC also looks for the research team that has an understanding of how they will transfer the knowledge from their research to appropriate end-users. After all, this is tax-payers' money, and at some point the tax-payer deserves to recoup the benefits from the research investment.

Dr Robin Olds

Chief Executive

Health Research Council of New Zealand



OECD (2009): Economic survey of New Zealand 2009. OECD, Paris. HRC (2011): <> .
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Title Annotation:GUEST EDITORIAL
Author:Olds, Robin
Publication:New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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