In a possible pre-cursor to the budget Ley cuts Beach funding but Sydney Uni saves it for now
The country’s leading centre of general practice research has been granted a 12-month reprieve to resolve its funding crisis
Word of the lifeline for the widely respected BEACH program came in a statement issued late yesterday by Dr Lyndal Trevena, Professor of Primary Health Care and Head of General Practice at the University of Sydney.
At the weekend, the university’s Family Medicine Research Centre said it had no choice but to close BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) after the federal Health Department knocked back a funding request.
The centre, which is wholly reliant on external funding, had sought extra funds to cover a shortfall in income from contracts with the pharmaceutical industry and NGOs.
But the department advised its annual funding for BEACH would cease on 30 June.
“The University of Sydney is urgently assessing a range of options to ensure the continuing operation of BEACH over the next 12 months while it develops a longer term plan with the Family Medicine Research Centre to secure its future,” Professor Trevena said.
Doctors reacted furiously to the threatened shutdown of BEACH, which provides a unique and continuous source of data and insight into general practice and patient consultations in Australia.
The RACGP is appealing to Health Department and Health Minister Sussan Ley to reverse the department’s decision to withhold support for the program.
RACGP president Dr Frank Jones said the loss would be a “negative and retrograde” step.
The centre’s director, Professor Helena Britt, said messages of support had been coming in from GPs all over the country.
Dr Brian Morton, chair of the AMA’s council of general practice, said he was appalled at the government’s stance.
“They are cutting back funding to those areas that don’t impact their electoral interests,” he said, adding that BEACH data often did not suit the government’s narrative.
In recent years, BEACH data has shot down claims that high-volume GP care was driving up medicare costs, for example, by showing consultation times had lengthened.
Dr Ewen McPhee , president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said BEACH was a “bizarre choice of entity to attack”.
But there appeared to be a deliberate defunding of primary healthcare research.
“This is not in isolation,” he said.
The Primary Health Care Research and Information Service, based at South Australia’s Flinders University, has also been denied new commonwealth funding.
Professor Ellen McIntyre, the director of PHCRIS, says the program is actively seeking other funding opportunities and calling for suggestions and proposals.
“Disinvesting in primy care research when gives the biggest bang for the buck in terms of improving the care of Australians is a big concern,” Dr McPhee said.