Survey says...

MPs are lacking in knowledge about health research

- October 24, 2007

Pat McGrath.
A Dalhousie survey suggests the country’s decision makers in Ottawa have “significant knowledge gaps” regarding health research. 

The survey also suggests while MPs appreciate the importance of health research, they don’t see it as a vote-grabber among their constituents.

“It seems MPs are generally in favor of more health research, but they don’t really know that much about it, and they also feel it isn’t a way to get votes,” says Patrick McGrath, one of the authors. Dr. McGrath is the vice-president of research at the IWK Health Centre and professor of psychology, pediatrics and psychiatry at Dalhousie University.

The survey stems from student Daniel Clark’s undergraduate honours research project. Mr. Clark, who graduated from Dalhousie with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in the spring, surveyed members of Parliament last fall about their knowledge and attitudes toward health research, health research funding and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

An article on the survey was published as a special report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal earlier this week.

While all MPs were invited to participate, only one-third of MPs or their designated senior aides responded. Interviews were conducted with 101 MPs either in person, by phone or over the Internet.

“MPs thought health research was a good thing, absolutely,” says Mr. Clark, who is now working toward his MBA at Queen’s University. “But what they knew was pretty limited. They’re very focused on research as leading to new treatments for disease.”

MPs “generally did not appreciate” the impact of health research on the economy or its role in promoting healthier lifestyles and improving health-care delivery, he adds.

The establishment of CIHR, Canada’s major federal funding agency for health research, in 2000 resulted in increased funding for health research in Canada. But in the seven years since its creation, funding increases for CIHR have been minimal. CIHR is only able to fund 20 per cent of the proposals it assesses as high quality through a peer-review process, notes Mr. Clark.

Eighty-four per cent of the survey participants were aware of CIHR, but 32 per cent of them admitted they knew nothing about its role.

“I think the survey best explains the pattern of funding for CIHR and other research bodies (such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canada Research Chairs, Genome Canada). It’s not bad but it’s not what it could be,” says Mr. Clark. “There are brilliant ideas out there that just aren’t being developed and supported.”


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