Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

  We welcome the opportunity to comment on the White Paper "Excellence and Opportunity, a science and innovation policy for the 21st century". We do so in the context of our earlier submission (9 June 2000). This emphasised:

    (1)  Veterinary science as an area of national research strength.

    (2)  The importance of veterinary science not only to the patients but through its role in sustaining the network of SMEs represented by general practices, the jobs which they create directly and through the various support industries. All of this depends on research if it is to keep pace with the advance in public perceptions and public demands, as well as the needs of animal health and those affected by it.

    (3)  The key role for veterinary research through its relevance to public health and comparative medicine, ie the insights into human disease which can be gained from relevant models in domesticated species, notably dogs and cats. Closer alignment of the research interests of human and veterinary medicine has been a key objective of this organisation in recent years.

    (4)  Concern that, in view of the importance of the Foresight programme in the national scientific research strategy, veterinary medicine should feature alongside human medicine in its deliberations.

  While there is much to welcome in the White Paper in general terms, the lack of involvement of veterinary research gives cause for concern. Indeed this seems to mirror a serious gap in the recent report of the Healthcare Panel ("Healthcare 2020"). This omission was the subject of the very pertinent Editorial in the Veterinary Record of 16 December (page 697) and it is not consistent with the priorities identified in the 1995 Report of the Foresight Health Sciences Panel nor with the role for Foresight properly envisaged on page 26 of the White Paper.

  The question of public trust of scientific evidence concerning risk, including the risks potentially arising from scientific innovation, is addressed on page 5, also pages 50-51. In the veterinary context, key areas are zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and food safety. It is disappointing that the primary organisation responsible for the latter, the newly created Food Standards Agency (page 54), has so little veterinary experience represented in its senior appointments. Eventually, this could prove a serious weakness.

  The appreciation of the importance of financial support and career structure in attracting elite talent into research (pages 9, 12, 23) is essential; without such talent truly innovative research cannot flourish.

  The role of the research councils, particularly the MRC, is addressed on pages 19 and 54 with particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research. The MRC has recently established a Comparative Clinical Science Panel to foster research links between human and veterinary medicine, provided that adequate additional funding can be secured. Rather than attempting to secure these funds through appeals and donations, it would add greatly to the momentum and effectiveness of this very welcome initiative if the additional funds could be made available to the MRC through specific allocations in the new Science Budget. The benefits to both human and veterinary medicine would be huge compared with the investment involved (£10m pa) and would go a long way to providing the strategic focus for veterinary clinical research—the lack of which was one of the main findings of the Selborne Report on Veterinary Research (1997). It would greatly enhance the ability of one of our areas of national competitiveness, veterinary science, to meet the needs of the new century, in particular a strong evidence base for clinical decisions.

8 January 2001

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