Event review: Simon McKeon Big Picture Seminar

Thanks to Maia Sauren for the run down of the Big Picture Seminar.

The problem with research, say hospital CEOs, is that no one is held accountable for it. If the Australian government followed the recommendations of the McKeon review, that might not be the case. The Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research 2013, chaired by Simon McKeon, highlights that the majority of the 1998 Wills Review recommendations were successfully implemented, and delivered a substantial positive impact on the sector.

Hospital CEOs begin each fiscal year with a nice line item for research, but there’s no KPI that holds them to it. Over the year, amounts are slowly shaved off for urgent and accountable matters; if reducing surgery waiting times is on the public’s mind, then that’s where the money goes.

In terms of bang for buck, Australia does pretty well. Our life expectancy is 82 years, a good 3 years above that of the US, at half their per capita cost. While total investment in HMR is not known, it was estimated to be over $6bn in 2012. In 2009-2010, government expenditure on health care amounted to 4% of government expenditure, estimated to rise to an unsustainable 7% in 2049. Just by addressing healthcare-associated infections by translating research into policies, Australian healthcare costs could drop by up to $1–2bn p.a.

The catchphrase of the McKeon review recommendations is “embed research into the health system”. This includes optimising investments, tying health outcomes to research recommendations, translating existing and new research into practices and policies, monitoring and evaluating outcomes, and supporting research commercialisation. To support this, the McKeon review recommends helping drive philanthropic investment in health and medical research, similar to overseas models.

So what can you do, as a science communicator? Bang the drum.

The summary report has clear, specific, strategic recommendations, supported by facts and figures, clear visualisations, and case studies. Ensure policymakers know the about it. Highlight the economic value of streamlined investments, of commercialising research outcomes, of priority driven research. Ensure people in decision making capacities have the facts.

The full 300-page McKeon Report and the summary version are available online at http://www.mckeonreview.org.au