Examination of Witness (Questions 40 -
WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH 2000
40. Nobody has told them that incontinence is
a real problem that they ought to be directing their minds towards?
(Dr Metz) No, because our systems do not naturally
41. EQUAL was intended to do that.
(Dr Metz) It has not done it in that way.
Mr Taylor: A factual point: Research Councils
in blue sky research do have an element when it comes to peer
review of directed research, as well as, then, alpha projects
which come through and are chosen on their individual merit and
the influence on the directive research side of certain research
council programmes I think has been effective.
Dr Jones: It may be that because these are unglamorous
subjects; they are more appropriate than others perhaps for some
kind of encouragement.
Mr Taylor: I am not differing from Mr Beard,
I am merely saying we need more evidence on what the Research
Councils themselves say the impact is on their directed programmes.
42. We are questioning ourselves and you are
nodding. I am not quite sure that is what is meant to happen.
We are coming to the last couple of questions. You mentioned earlier
that the MRC seemed to be less engaged with EQUAL, why do you
think some Research Councils have been more willing to look to
projects than others or is it just, as you say, they were not
really engaged with EQUAL, it is just that they were interested
in that line of work anyway?
(Dr Metz) What I see as happening is that different
Research Councils have their traditional modes of working. In
response to the EQUAL initiative each council did what it would
do within its tradition. For example, the Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council
and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
are all used to having strategic programmes of a discrete kind
operating over three or four years. They have processes for allocating
budgets to do that. In response to EQUAL, naturally they each
put in place a relevant programme. The Medical Research Council,
in contrast, has not done that, except under quite severe duress
because of the magnitude of the problem, like HIV, for example,
or like BSE. For the MRC these are quite rare events, strategic
programmes of this kind. The MRC believes in responsive mode funding,
responding to good ideas from the scientists with all projects
competing equally and no protection for any particular area like
incontinence. So the MRC operated in that mode. The only particular
element that is particularly age related is their LINK Programme,
which I mentioned, but that is really quite a small programme
and has not attracted a lot of interest. Now whether, at the end
of the day, the MRC's approach will be better or worse in achieving
desirable outcomes relevant to the health and quality of life
of older people it is hard to say. It would be very interesting,
I think, to do an evaluation of these different approaches at
some point in the future but at the moment all one can say is
each council has been true to its traditions in responding to
the EQUAL initiatives.
43. When AgeNet's funding terminates at the
end of this year will there be a gap left, or do you feel that
your work has been completed?
(Dr Metz) I think what is going to happen, and I think
you may have had evidence on this, is that the Research Councils
are planning some kind of cross-council research initiative relative
to ageing and the intention is that the AgeNet intellectual asset
databases and so forth will be taken over into this new initiative
and used in some way. I have not actually had the opportunity
to discuss with anyone what that might involve, so I am not really
quite sure what will come of it. I think on the whole AgeNet has
been a worthwhile initiative. It is hard to put one's finger on
quantifiable outcomes but the sense that I get from people whose
judgment I respect is that it has been worthwhile. I think something
similar will be needed to draw together people from the multifarious
disciplines involved to encourage them to work together and actively
in constructive new partnership.
44. What organisations have valued the work
of AgeNet; and what are you doing to ensure that any gap is filled?
(Dr Metz) I am not sure I can do anything to ensure
that gaps are filled. The approbation I have had has been from
a variety of individuals with high reputation and the facts that
we have been able to collaborate with a large number of other
organisations in staging joint events to mutual satisfaction.
That is not to say that those organisations have felt able to
offer funding to sustain AgeNet into the future, but in part that
is because AgeNet is an unusual sort of animal. We do not do research,
therefore we are not eligible to bid for research funding. We
foster, we stimulate research and that is an unusual activity
and therefore hard to identify natural sources of external funding.
45. If you are not prepared to name names, perhaps
you might like to let us know if there are any organisations and
we can perhaps contact them to see whether they feel that there
is a gap that needs to be filled.
(Dr Metz) Yes.
Dr Jones: Thank you very much for being our
witness today. We managed to catch up and finish on time. I did
not apologise at the beginning for keeping you waiting 15 minutes
beyond the original start time but I hope you found it a good
settling in period. Thank you very much.