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Debate: Goodbye to world-class health research

The new Finance Act will inject more funds into the healthcare sector, but in the long-term the Finance Act’s massive reduction of research funding can end-up having drastic consequences for the healthcare sector.

By Allan Flyvbjerg, Dean of the Faculty of Health, Aarhus University; Per Christiansen, CEO, Rigshospitalet; Ulla Wewer, Dean, University of Copenhagen and Gert Sørensen, Hospital Director, Aarhus University Hospital


With an extra DKK 2.4 billion, the healthcare sector will avoid major new budget cutbacks next year. But with a dramatic reduction of research funding also included in the very same Finance Act, the long-term outlook can ironically enough result in a hard setback for the very same healthcare sector. Because without money for research and development, we risk seeing the highly-specialised and development-oriented Danish healthcare sector go into hibernation. Basic research, clinical research and good patient treatment are and will remain inseparable factors that must go hand in hand.

Over the years, many health science researchers and doctors have helped to put Denmark on the world map by virtue of new groundbreaking research results; results that have ensured better prevention, faster diagnoses, new treatment options and thus more effective treatment. For cancer patients, heart patients, diabetics and many other patient groups.

All of us benefit from the fact that researchers and doctors are getting better and better at their work. And obviously we must continue to make progress. But this requires our politicians to prioritise research – in both experimental and directly patient-orientated versions. That they opt in and not out. Unfortunately, the new Finance Act makes it crystal clear that research is not exactly the government's top priority.

Research must make savings totalling DKK 1.4 billion, including cutting DKK 400 million from the Danish Council for Independent Research and DKK 650 million from Innovation Fund Denmark. The savings will impact Danish research in general, but also basic health research, clinical research and pharmaceutical research. 

A brand-new analysis from the Confederation of Danish Industry shows that the healthcare industry is one of Denmark's strengths. Unfortunately, the analysis also shows that we are losing market share, and that it is too difficult to develop new healthcare solutions in Denmark. If we are already losing ground, then a future with far less funding for health research unfortunately looks shamefully bleak. 

The paradox is that the government again and again says that it will make growth creation a priority, but at the same time, it will not spend money to sow the seeds that make it possible to harvest results in the future.

This is because the dramatic cutting back of the funding for non-targeted research frameworks particularly impacts early career researchers who are just starting a research career. The consequence is that we will end up with a lack of top researchers in the long run. And without top researchers, we will end up with an even greater lack of research funds, because it will be far more difficult for us to stand out in the face of extremely stiff competition for research funding. So the savings end up coming back to bite us – and they do not just damage Danish research, they damage the healthcare sector of the future. In other words, the government's presentation of the Finance Act as an initiative for “better health” can end up being somewhat economical with the facts.

Many key players have already shown the Finance Bill the red card. The Danish Chamber of Commerce has called it “a dangerous course”. Liselotte Højgaard, chair of the Danish National Research Foundation, has compared it to a game of ludo: “For Denmark as a knowledge society, it’s like having all four of your pieces sent home twice”. Chair of the Danish Council for Independent Research Peter Munk Christiansen has emphasised that we are at risk of losing “the growth in Danish research, which has led to our research being among the best in the world” and has been called the reduction a “disaster”.

We couldn’t agree more!

This article was published in Danish at Altinget.dk on 6 October 2015.