How NHMRC develops its guidelines

What’s new?

Changes to NHMRC public consultation process

The NHMRC has updated its public consultation processes to move to a more digital and web-based presence. To keep abreast of any upcoming public consultations you can now register for email notifications with the NHMRC public consultation subscription service

NHMRC is now using GRADE

NHMRC developed guidelines are now using GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) an internationally recognised approach to rate the quality of the evidence and the strength of recommendations.

What are guidelines?

Guidelines are sets of non-mandatory rules, principles or recommendations for procedures or practices in a particular field. They only become mandatory if governments turn them into legislation, professional bodies incorporate them into codes of conduct for their members or funding bodies insist on compliance with them.

What are the benefits of having guidelines?

In the clinical, public and environmental health fields, NHMRC guidelines provide the evidence-based information needed to achieve best practice. In regard to ethical issues in those fields, NHMRC guidelines reflect the community's range of attitudes and concerns.

Types of NHMRC guidelines

The National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act) requires NHMRC to develop evidence-based guidelines. NHMRC develops a range of guidelines, including:

  • Public or population health – for example, guidelines on drinking water quality, nutrition and alcohol consumption
  • Health and research ethics – for example, guidelines on organ donation, post coma unresponsiveness and the wellbeing of animals used in research
  • Clinical practice – for example, guidelines for the treatment of obesity, volatile substance use and borderline personality disorder.

Who initiates NHMRC guidelines and their review?

The development of new NHMRC guidelines can be suggested by:

  • NHMRC's Chief Executive Officer, Council or its committees
  • Other government agencies
  • peak bodies, advocacy groups and other organisations.

However, only NHMRC's CEO can make the decision to initiate development.

How often does NHMRC review its guidelines?

Council looks at current guidelines after five years and recommends to NHMRC's CEO if they need to be updated or rescinded. In some areas of science, where the evidence base may be changing rapidly, a guideline may need to be updated more regularly.  In other areas, however, the science may not change much over a 5-10 year period, and the guideline may not require such regular updating.

After 10 years, irrespective of whether they were reviewed at five years or not, guidelines are either reviewed and the evidence updated, or rescinded.

Who develops NHMRC guidelines?

NHMRC guidelines are developed by multidisciplinary committees or panels following a rigorous evidence-based approach and with the support of NHMRC staff. These committees or panels usually include:

  • members with relevant and appropriate scientific or topic expertise, suggested by relevant organisations such as government agencies, peak professional bodies, advocacy groups and educational institutions.  The Council and/or CEO of NHMRC may have input into this step.
  • members with experience in implementation of the guideline topic
  • methodologists with expertise in evaluating evidence
  • where possible, consumers and/or representatives from the guideline target group are also engaged in the development process. If possible, they are invited to join the guideline development committee.
  • technical and scientific writers are also engaged to work with the committee/panel to structure and write the guideline.