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Research translators to improve healthcare outcomes and boost the economy: Addressing the workforce gap in health research translation

While the creation of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has greatly increased research funding, Australia still lags behind other nations in translation of research into improved healthcare and economic growth. Unlike Australia, competing jurisdictions (e.g. UK, USA and Singapore) have systematically invested in frontline health service clinical staff who drive research and translation in combination with clinical care. Such staff have dedicated funded time to involve consumers and stakeholders in all aspects of research and translation; to lead clinical, data, innovation and healthcare improvement research embedded in clinical care; to provide translational expertise for partnership with healthcare and industry; and to champion integration of research-driven evidence and innovation into healthcare to deliver “Better Health through Research” (1). Here we describe such staff as Research Translators and propose that funding such positions would plug a critical clinical workforce gap that threatens to inhibit delivery of many MRFF priorities. Health service staff with most of the necessary skills are available in our nation but the funded time to deploy their translational expertise is lacking. 

Funding for research translational activity must be separated from health service delivery as experience has shown immediate clinical need will often absorb funding from more long term goals, including the improvements in the efficiency, sustainability and quality in our health system. A further risk is the loss of economic benefit; if UK activity and returns on investment in such staff could be achieved in Australia in proportion to population, we would see clinical studies involving ~340k volunteers per year that deliver Gross Value Added (GVA) of ~ $2.5bn and ~24,000 jobs. Industrial partnerships would deliver a net annual gain to healthcare (income plus savings on trialed medicines) of ~$28k per participant. 

Research Translators are the missing link in our metropolitan, regional and rural health economies and would help bring the benefits of the MRFF to all Australians. Funding such staff should be a cross-cutting priority for MRFF and stakeholders. The greatly increased funding through MRFF if distributed as “business as usual” will be a lost opportunity in healthcare improvement, evidence based care and clinical trial activity. To best ensure timely translation of the increased research output, specific funding should be allocated to securing rapid and sustained impact through Research Translators. 

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