Ontario cuts health research fund, redirects money to frontline care

Researchers at several universities, including University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy, will have to find other ways to fund their research projects as the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care recently cancelled a major funding grant.

Open Stimulus grant funded health care research projects

UW's School of Pharmacy is one of several post-secondary institutions on Ontario that will be affected by the Ministry of Health's decision to cancel the Open Stimulus grant, which helped fund several research projects. (University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy/Facebook)

Some research projects under the Ontario Pharmacy Evidence Network (OPEN) are at risk of not being completed after the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care terminated the OPEN Stimulus three-year grant program.

Researchers that depended on that grant will now have to find other ways to come up with the money to continue their research projects.

"Our job at this stage is really to see what we can salvage," Nancy Waite, a professor from the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and one of the heads of OPEN, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

The grant was one of 11 funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care that helped fund research projects that looked into a variety of healthcare issues such as de-prescribing and delivery of medication management.

Affected research includes projects at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, University of Toronto's faculty of Pharmacy, McMaster's School of Medicine, MacEwan University, the Bruyere Research Institute and Ryerson University.

Those projects will now end in July, 14 months earlier than the original date. The ministry has given researchers with the OPEN stimulus grant a 90-day wind down period.

Waite said researchers may have some results from projects that are further ahead, but others are at risk of not being completed if other forms of funds are not allocated.

"We'll do the best we can to apply for new funding, but a number of these project at this point are just going to have to go on hold," Waite said, noting that OPEN purely relies on funding and in-kind donations.

'It's disappointing'

The decision to cancel the OPEN Stimulus grant came after a budget review in which the province decided to move government resources to direct patient care efforts.

"As part of this commitment to redirect all available resources to frontline care, the government has made the decision to wind down certain research programs," the Ministry of Health and Long Term care said in an email to CBC.

Barbara Farrell is a pharmacist and a researcher with the Bruyere Research Institute in Ottawa, and part of the OPEN Stimulus grant program.

Her research has focused on improving multiple prescription, or polypharmacy, management for seniors. Without the grant, Farrell said she may not be able to complete her work.

"I'm looking at four years of work that I wont be able to complete unless I figure out another way to fund it," she said.

She had hoped to create information sessions for the community to help seniors learn more about their medication and how to have conversations about their medication to their healthcare providers.

The end goal, said Farrell, was to evaluate the sessions, and create and share an implementation manual that other communities could use.

"It's disappointing because we will not be able to achieve the full scope of our plan," she said.

Waite her project could have greatly benefited patients and healthcare providers in Ontario, but also could have helped make better healthcare policies in the future.

"When we don't have this data, policy is still made and often it can hit the mark, but what we say is that evidence informed policy is always a stronger policy," Waite said.