Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from John D Spencer

  The Medical Research Council had a major research institute sited beside a hospital, indeed a purpose built hospital, Northwick Park. That hospital was built (in 1970) specifically to provide opportunities for translational research. The stated purpose at the time was that the basic research facilities would "solve" the problems thrown up by the "District General Hospital" dealing with real patients in the real world. Some wards were specifically designed to provide for dual access for the normal medical/nursing staff and for the researchers. You need to ask why the MRC withdrew from that concept. I went there in 1977 as a consultant and found that there was a fundamental conflict between the hospital medical establishment and the MRC appointed staff. The hospital consultants (eg Arnold Elton and Jonathan Levy) were traditional NHS type chaps whose main interest was private practice and who had no interest in research. As far as I know that is still the same today for the bulk of Consultants in Kings Hospital and University College Hospital. Research Institutes only work if everybody is pulling together with the same objectives. The senior staff at Northwick Park were on different contracts—some NHS some MRC, some (very few) joint MRC/NHS. It didn't work. The only way a new Institute set up with the same objective would work is if everybody in the Institute was on the same contract. See how enthusiastic the Kings consultant body is for the MRC if they cannot do private practice. See how enthusiastic the consultant body at University College is for the proposal if they cannot do private practice.

  In summary:

    The MRC had a purpose built translational research facility at Northwick Park. They need to explain why they closed it.

    How would setting up a new facility linked to a central London teaching hospital avoid the problems that ended the Northwick Park project?

    Does the MRC think that any new NIMR project should involve a Central London University where the main thrust of senior medical staff activity is directed towards private practice?

    If the NIMR moved to central London would either Kings or University College Universities provide a standard contract for all senior medical staff that excluded private practice and helped to ensure a common purpose?

    What precisely are the limitations on research at Mill Hill that preclude "leadership in research more directly related to the health and disease of human beings". Is it really necessary to physically move a whole institution to remove those limitations?

    Most major advances in medical treatments are coming from basic cell research. The MRC doesn't need to involve itself in clinical research. That can be done by existing medical institutions (with some support). What's the evidence that involving the NIMR more directly with patients will produce better treatments and outcomes?

    If the NIMR really want to direct research aimed at solving the problems related to the health and disease of human beings then why don't they just ring up a few NHS consultants and ask them what the problems are? You don't need to move a whole institution to get a new direction for your research programme.

27 October 2004

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