Our Spinifex Statement

People living in rural, regional and remote locations deserve better health.

We will be rigorous and use creative and non-traditional research approaches to improve health outcomes for these Australians.

Our strength is in our rural roots, our will to collaborate and make change happen.

Spinifex, where it grows in the desert and near the coast, is a symbol of resilience.

It can withstand storms, winds and king tides. It has deep roots, it resists drought and stabilises the earth.

– a collective statement of purpose and intent for the Spinifex Network, endorsed by participants at the Spinifex Symposium, Alice Springs, November 13, 2019.

The problem:

Thirty per cent of Australians live in rural, regional and remote Australia but have substantially poorer physical and mental health than those in cities.

Life expectancy in regional areas is one to two years lower than in metropolitan areas, and up to seven years lower in remote areas. These figures are even worse for Indigenous Australians.

There is increasing emphasis on getting more doctors and allied health professionals into rural Australia, but little focus on boosting health and medical research – not only research about rural populations, but research actually done in these regions.

Less than three per cent of National Health and Medical Research Council funding supports rural health research, largely due to an emphasis on funding discovery science and selection criteria that favour metropolitan-based research and discriminate against rural-based health researchers.

While it is well documented that different models of healthcare are needed in regional Australia to deal with delivery, access and costs, there is no similar strategy for funding and rolling out medical research in the bush.

The answer:

Translational medicine starts with medical and health research.

To achieve genuine research outcomes that benefit regional Australia, research needs to be done in collaboration with patients, consumers, practitioners, healthcare networks and system managers who work in and know the concerns of rural communities.

The Rural Health and Medical Research Network – the Spinifex Network – is a consortium and coalition of more than 50 rural and regional health organisations that have joined forces to address the paucity of funding for rural medical research.

The Spinifex Network proposes dedicated research funding from the Medical Research Future Fund focused on improving the health of rural communities, with the bulk of the funding going to those who run and operate research studies in the rural regions.

This investment will result in:

  • a critical mass of place-based rural researchers supported by a funded network.
  • close research relationships between the researchers, the primary healthcare networks, the health services and the patients so translation is tailored for, and embedded in, rural communities from the outset.
  • a more stable clinical community of hybrid clinician-researchers.
  • improved rural economies.

The Spinifex Network will assist in identifying target areas for open, competitive funding calls and will provide infrastructure and capability-building through its national network of members, who are all key players in the rural health space.

Spinifex Network Background