Support for applied medical research: the Ministry did not evaluate whether research results were used in practice

Press release to audit No 19/17 – 22 June 2020

The Supreme Audit Office (SAO) verified the special-purpose subsidy for applied medical research, which was paid out by the Ministry of Health (MoH) between 2015 and 2019. During this period, the financial support amounted to CZK 4.2 billion. The funds were supposed to help improve the health of Czech citizens, answer the needs of the current health care system, and secure an internationally relevant level of research. However, the audit revealed that the Ministry did not monitor or evaluate the benefits of the aid it paid out. Moreover, the programmes were prepared in a way that made quantity more important than quality of the results. The support was aimed primarily at research results with practical use, but most of the outputs were articles and publications.

The first audited programme ended in 2015 and the Ministry paid more than CZK 3 billion for its financing. The expected number of applied results was 415, the final number was two. In contrast, publication activity, which was only a secondary indicator of the results obtained through financial aid, a total of 2 945 articles or publications were created instead of the anticipated 180 outputs. In addition, the MoH neither evaluated the objectives set for this completed programme, nor did it monitor the benefits of the supported programmes.

By 2019, the MoH paid out CZK 4.2 billion in the second audited programme planned for the years 2015 to 2022. Also for this programme, the indicators are set in a way which favours publications instead of practical results such as methodologies, treatment procedures, patents, or software. Moreover, the Ministry fails to evaluate on a regular basis whether the objectives set in this programme are being achieved.

Similarly to the two programmes mentioned above, the MoH set up a new programme, which is planned for the years 2020 to 2026. The Ministry allocated CZK 5.5 billion for this programme. Once again, publications are to be the main output of this programme. It is also unclear how the MoH will evaluate the programme. According to the indicators it has set, it is impossible to evaluate how the programme’s objectives will be met. For all the three audited programmes, the MoH placed no emphasis on the practical use of the results, but mainly on their quantity.

The administration of financial support for applied medical research is provided by the Czech Health Research Council. It was established by the MoH in 2014, but the Ministry did not grant it unequivocal responsibility for administering funds. The administrative burden of granting aid has thus increased. In addition to that, due to the necessity of communication between the Ministry and the Council, there have been delays in concluding contracts, and their amendments, with beneficiaries and in the disbursement of aid. In 2017, the MoH also transferred the obligation to carry out financial control on the part of the beneficiaries to the Council. Until then, the Ministry itself, had not performed any controls of beneficiaries, although it was required to do so by law.

The beneficiaries are mostly university hospitals and public universities. The SAO examined 16 selected and completed projects amounting to almost CZK 180 million. All beneficiaries fulfilled the conditions of the aid and did not use the funds unlawfully. According to the auditors, five projects were not fully effective and efficient.

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