The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has a statutory responsibility under the NHMRC Act 1992 (the Act) to raise the standard of individual and public health throughout Australia, and foster the development of consistent health standards between the various states and territories.
The functions undertaken by NHMRC in executing these responsibilities are outlined in Section 7(1)(a) of the Act. NHMRC inquires into, issues guidelines on, and advises the community on, matters relating to:
- the improvement of health
- the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease
- the provision of health care
- public health research and medical research
- ethical issues relating to health
The Australian community understands the importance of NHMRC’s functions, leading to significant level of interest from individuals and groups within the Australian community. NHMRC understands the importance of engaging with consumers and the community to the successful performance of our functions. The following are some examples of NHMRC’s engagement with consumers and the community:
Public consultation is an important mechanism by which NHMRC engages with the Australian community. Section 3(2) of the Act states:
It is the intention of the Parliament that, to the extent that it is practicable to do so, the NHMRC should adopt a policy of public consultation in relation to individual and public health matters being considered by it from time to time.
As directed in Section 3(2) of the Act, NHMRC adopts a policy of public consultation in relation to individual and public health matters it considers: all Guidelines developed by NHMRC undergo a period of public consultation prior to consideration by Council.
Section 13 of the Act outlines the process that the Council or Committee must follow:
- draft guidelines must be prepared;
- a notice must be published containing a summary of the draft guidelines, stating where the draft guidelines can be obtained and inviting submissions within a specified timeframe; and
- due consideration must be given to consultation submissions.
The NHMRC Regulations 2006 require that public consultation runs for a minimum of 30 days.
Specific requirements for consumer and community engagement apply during the development of the clinical practice guidelines. NHMRC’s requirements are detailed in the publication Procedures and requirements for meeting the 2011 NHMRC standard for clinical practice guidelines which requires that, to meet the NHMRC standard, clinical practice guidelines must:
“be developed by a multidisciplinary group that includes relevant experts, end users and consumers affected by the clinical practice guideline”
Consumer and Community representation on NHMRC Committees
The Council and Principal Committees of the NHMRC are established under Section 20 and 35 of the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (the NHMRC Act) respectively. Under the NHMRC Act the Minister must establish Principal Committees called the Research Committee and the Australian Health Ethics Committee. The Minister may also establish such other Principal Committees the Minister thinks are necessary to assist Council to carry out any of its functions.
Consumer and Community representatives are amongst the members of Council and NHMRC Committees. Further information on the functions and membership of the committees can be obtained from the NHMRC website.
NHMRC’s Community and Consumer Advisory Group
In 2013 NHMRC established a Community and Consumer Advisory Group (CCAG) to provide timely, high level, strategic advice to the NHMRC, including its Council and Principal Committees, on health matters and on health and medical research matters from a consumer and community perspective.
Further information on CCAG can be obtained from the NHMRC website under Community and Consumer Advisory Group.
Consumer and Community Involvement in Health and Medical Research
In 2016, NHMRC and The Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia Ltd (CHF) released the updated Statement on Consumer and Community Involvement in Health and Medical Research. The Statement is intended as a guide to consumer and community involvement at all levels and across all types of health and medical research. The Statement was developed in recognition of the contribution that consumers can make to research, as well as their right to participate in research. The Statement can be found on the NHMRC website.
NHMRC and CHF released the earlier Statement on Consumer and Community Participation in Health and Medical Research in 2002. The Statement was accompanied by a model framework for community and consumer participation in health and medical research and a resource pack in 2004, which remain available on the NHMRC website.
The Australian Clinical Trials Website
This website recognises the important role that clinical trials play in Australia, both in improving the health of all Australians and in the Australian economy.
The website aims to provide reliable and up-to-date information and advice about clinical trials in Australia for the public, researchers and industry. For the public, the website provides easy to understand information about clinical trials in Australia and how to become involved in a clinical trial. For industry, it provides information on the advantages of conducting clinical trials in Australia. For researchers, it provides an overview of the legislative and regulatory environment and useful links.
The website is the result of the recommendations of the Clinical Trials Action Group, supported by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and the NHMRC.
Community values and ethics in National Statement and Animal codes
NHMRC promotes community values being considered during the planning and conduct of medical research through a variety of mechanisms including the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 and by establishing standards for the treatment of animals used in research. Further information is available at:
- National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007)
- Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
- Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 7th edition (2004)
- Other NHMRC publications relating to Animal ethics.