Speech by Minister on the announcement of the Research Programme Grants for October 2002 to 2006 awarded by the Health Research Board

I am pleased to be here this morning to formally announce to you the recipients of the Health Research Board programme grants for the period of October 2002 to October 2006.

Before making the formal announcements, I would just like to say a few words to you about some developments that have been taking place in the area of health research since the publication of “Making Knowledge Work for Health”. One of these developments is, of course, the publication of the National Health Strategy – Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You. This strategy reinforces the importance of research in providing the evidence base for decision making in our health system. In terms of its goals and objectives it provides a framework which, together with Making Knowledge Work for Health, will help guide decisions in relation to priorities for increased investment in research.

Progress has already been made in a number of the areas which were identified as requiring action in the National Strategy for Health Research.

Firstly and perhaps most importantly, the annual revenue contribution from my Department for the Health Research Board has been increased this year to €7.3 million which represents an increase of 164% on the 1999 figure. What this increase represents is – more new projects funded, more fellowships awarded and more new positions and awards being made to dedicated research professionals working here in Ireland.

This budgetary increase reflects in part the extent of this Government´s commitment to a funding a vibrant health research sector. The Government is, and has been, committed to the development of research in Ireland in a way that is entirely unprecedented.

The new Health Research Board will be appointed shortly. This board will have an important role in the implementation of the Strategy for Health Research.

The Strategy for Health Research also emphasises the need for support for research and development for health so as to develop a research culture in the key health agencies at national and regional level. In that regard I am pleased to hear from Dr Barrington that an appointment is imminent to the new position of Head of Research and Development in the HRB.

The Research and Development components of the Health Research Strategy complement and support the drive indicated in the Health Strategy “Quality and Fairness” towards a more clearly evidence-based approach to health service planning and delivery and towards monitoring and evaluating this service for quality. The funding which enables the Health Boards to appoint Research and Development Officers to develop their own research strategies will complement the developments in performance measurement and in performance indicators agreed jointly by my Department and the Health Boards for use in monitoring and evaluating service plan delivery by the boards.

These developments taken together with the commitment to a National Health Information Strategy will address many issues pertinent to health research.

The world class research carried out in Ireland in relation to science for health in clinical and other fields can supply the basic and translational research to allow research results to be transformed into effective service delivery. The delivery of health care in Ireland can then be planned, monitored and evaluated, better aided by these research results and the developmental actions in the national strategy and the health research strategy that I have already referred to. These closely complementary actions can enhance the quality of health service delivery through well targeted actions, derived from clear needs assessments, focussed by way of health technology assessment and informed by research results and knowledge. I am aware that the HRB is working to improve the dissemination and application of research findings and with their colleagues in research in Northern Ireland have been instrumental in making information from the Cochrane Collaboration available to all interested health service professionals on this island via the Internet.

North South research cooperation has featured strongly in the recent work of the HRB and the Research and Development Office in Belfast. In this regard I am pleased to note that a meeting of the Health Research Board was held in Belfast last week. This was the first full meeting of the Board to be held in Northern Ireland. The meeting was facilitated by Professor Paddy Johnson who has been so remarkably successful in his work in helping to secure National Cancer Institutes US/Ireland Research Agreements which are already producing top class research which is of benefit to all on this island and indeed worldwide.

And now regarding the real business of this morning – the announcement of the recipients of the research programme grants – my Department made substantial additional funding available to the Health Research Board in 2001 to support high quality research for health. As a result of this increase, the HRB invited applications for research programme grants for the period October 2002- October 2006.

The aim of this substantial, long-term support for high quality health research is to contribute, through research, to health and social gain. The total value of the investment over five years is almost €12 million. It is a substantial boost for health research in Ireland and complements the Government´s recent “Strategy for Health”, which for the first time, identified research as a core activity of the health services.

The five-year programme grants, which are worth between €500,000 and €1,000,000 each, will enable researchers to establish and support teams working full time on extensive or long-term research projects.

Three broad areas of health research have been targeted in this call, namely:

  • clinical and biomedical research, in particular translational or “bench to bedside” research that is patient oriented but strongly underpinned by scientific excellence;
  • research in health services, epidemiology, public health and primary care that addresses issues of relevance to health policy and health services in Ireland;
  • nursing and midwifery research; note that it is the first time that funding has been made available for a dedicated research programme addressing the clinical practice of nursing.

In all three areas, teams were encouraged to take an all island approach and to include researchers from Northern Ireland where appropriate.

When the Health Research Board issued its first call, 104 expressions of interest applications were received. From these, 40 applicants were invited to submit full applications, all of which were sent for international peer review. Three international review panels were established to assess the applications and make recommendations on funding.

Following this review process thirteen awards are being made (with one nursing/midwifery award still to follow) and I am now pleased to announce that the awards are to be made as follows:

Awards in Clinical and Biomedical Sciences

Principal Investigator Research Programme
Professor Hugh Brady, UCD/Dublin Molecular Medicine Centre, Mater Hospital, Dublin Programme of research in diabetes
Professor Desmond Fitzgerald, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin New therapies in Cancer
Professor Timothy James Foster, Microbiology Department, Trinity College Dublin Research into novel alternatives to antibiotics
Dr Catherine Godson, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Conway Institute, University College Dublin Programme of research in inflammatory diseases
Dr Peter Humphries, The Ocular Genetics Unit, Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin Programme of research in degenerative diseases of the retina
Professor Dermot Kelleher, Department of Clinical Medicine, Trinity College Dublin / St. James´s Hospital, Dublin Programme of research in inflammation and infectious diseases
Professor Dermot Kenny, Director, Clinical Research Centre, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin Programme of research in cardiovascular disease
Professor Noel Lowndes, Department of Biochemistry, National University of Ireland, Galway Programme of research in cancer research
Professor Fergus Shanahan, Department of Medicine, Clinical Sciences Building, Cork University Hospital, Cork Programme of research in inflammatory bowel disease

Awards in Health Services Research, Public Health And Epidemiology

Principal Investigator Research Programme
Professor Hannah McGee, Health Services Research Centre, Department of Psychology, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin Ageing, health and healthcare
Professor Andrew Murphy, Department of General Practice, Clinical Sciences Institute, NUI Galway Prevention of heart disease in General Practice
Professor Brian Nolan, The Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin The provision and use of Health Services
Professor Denis O´Mullane, Oral Health Services Research Centre, University Dental School and Hospital, Cork The benefits and risks of water fluoridation

In the case of biomedical and clinical sciences, there is evidence of strong collaboration between clinical researchers and scientists. This is a core feature of the HRB´s mission to support translational research, that is the translation of research findings into improved understanding of disease and its treatment.

North-South collaboration is a particularly strong feature of the research programmes in health services research, public health and epidemiology. All four programmes in these areas have an all-island dimension and include research teams from Northern Ireland.

Another feature of note is the strength of inter-institutional collaboration evident in the research teams, most of which include researchers from different universities and research institutes.

There is a good geographic spread in the awards, with two to researchers in University College Galway and two awards to researchers in University College Cork.

I would like to congratulate all the recipients of these awards and to thank them for their interest and participation in this scheme. I would like also to thank the staff and Board members of the HRB for their work in administering the research grants programme. Supporting people of high quality and providing them with an opportunity to engage fully in research is one of the most important steps that is needed for research to achieve its full potential in this country. It is essential that health professionals are given the opportunity to pursue this research here in Ireland. Whereas people may continue to obtain experience and pursue opportunities abroad, it is intended that in the future there will be less actual need for them to do so. It is my belief that, by building a thriving research environment in our health services, we can make the service an employer of choice and an ever more stimulating place to be for many talented people.

The ultimate aim of all our investment in health-related research is to improve health status and quality of life – in other words to achieve health and social gain. We also aim to contribute to economic gain, particularly in the field of biotechnology. To achieve health and social gain we need to need to bring research results to bear on enhanced service provision as quickly as possible with improved planning and better outcomes.

Ireland is a relatively small country but I am confident that with the development of a thriving health-related research infrastructure we will be able to contribute globally in this area in the same way that we have been able to contribute and achieve so much in so many different areas in the international arena. We will not achieve this overnight, but I believe that we are moving solidly in that direction and that the awards I am announcing this morning represent another important step on the way.

So once again let me congratulate you on your awards and wish you all well with your future research endeavours.