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2018 Federal Budget

Brain and Mind Centre Co-Directors respond to 2018 Federal Budget
There is still a long way to go to redesign and deliver neurological and mental health services fit for the 21st century. However the government has moved in some important directions, write Professors Matthew Kiernan and Ian Hickie.

The recent Federal Budget has pledged support for some excellent initiatives across mental health and neurodegeneration. We welcome the new treatments that have been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to support Australians living with neurological disease. Furthermore, the $338.1M for mental health research and services is an important step in the right direction.

In relation to neurodegenerative disease, new therapies have been added to the PBS at a cost of $2.4 billion. This includes the life-saving drug Spinraza which treats Spinal Muscular Atrophy as well as new medications for progressive multiple sclerosis. This is a huge step forward. Decades of research have provided extensive insights into the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disorders. However until now, successful treatment options have remained relatively limited. 

In addition to Spinraza, there are an unprecedented number of treatments now ready to be trialled and introduced to clinical practice across neurological diseases. To introduce these new therapies, we will also need to drive progress in research infrastructure. This is crucial to accelerate further translation in Australia. As well as ongoing drug discovery, Brain and Mind Centre’s integration with the Sydney Health Partners network places us in a strong position to help drive the roll out of these therapies in clinical practice. 

This is the first time we have a large and ongoing commitment to grow our capability to conduct mental health research in Australia.
Professor Ian Hickie and Professor Matthew Kiernan, Brain and Mind Centre Co-Directors

The emphasis on aged care is also a welcome win in this year’s budget. In addition to expanding residential and home packages, better mental health services for older people is now a focus. Older Australian men have the highest suicide rate of any group in the country. So directing attention to their mental health, as well as cognition and issues related to dementia, is a very welcome development. We look forward to further initiatives in this area.

The announcements by the Turnbull Government also reflect its fundamental commitment to improving the mental wealth of Australians. Very importantly, there is an emphasis on supporting mental health research, which has long been neglected in the wide landscape of Australian medical research.

The $125M pledge to the Million Minds initiative is particularly important. This is the first time we have a large and ongoing commitment to grow our capability to conduct mental health research in Australia. The government’s support of Million Minds shows how the Medical Research Future Fund can be used to support translational mental health research that can improve patients’ lives now. We’re hopeful this investment will give rise to important infrastructure like a national clinical trials network for children and young people, as well as other major initiatives to prevent and treat mood disorders. This kind of ongoing investment will also enable us to link more effectively with international developments in key areas. 

There is still a long way to go to redesign and deliver neurological and mental health services fit for the 21st century. We can see by the size of investment in other areas, such as a $500M commitment to genomics this year, and past $200M investments in dementia, that medical research requires large amounts of funding. Especially for brain and mind science research to make a real impact on the lives of Australians.  However, there is no doubt the government has moved in some important directions. We hope that this government and every future government, will build on these important set of initiatives. 

To introduce these new therapies, we will also need to drive progress in research infrastructure. This is crucial to accelerate further translation in Australia.