Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Alison Spaull, Director Chief Scientist Office, Edinburgh

  1.  I should start by declaring an interest. I am a member of the MRC Health Services and Public Health Research Board appointed as a representative of the Scottish Executive Health Department.

  2.  I am employed by NHS National Services Scotland but have been seconded since appointment in January 1996 to a Civil Service role within the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Executive Health Department.

  3.  I was an Observer on the NIMR Task Force, acting on behalf of all four UK Health Departments.

  4.  I attended the meetings held on 8 February 2004, 19 April 2004 (when I left before the end) and the last meeting 21 June 2004. A series of conference calls were also arranged but my recollection is that I joined only one. As an Observer I did not participate in general discussion either at or between meetings. I recall asking a question on two occasions only.

  5.  The only apparent departure from this Observer role resulted from receiving a lengthy e-mail from Professor Colin Blakemore on 28 March, described as "a private note" and marked Confidential. The e-mail although initially (and surprisingly) appearing to be to me alone, on reading in full, it was clear that its content had already been raised with many of the members as well as myself. It seemed necessary to respond but without over-reaching my Observer status.

  6.  I was on sick leave following surgery from 5 May and returned to work, part time on 21 June (the last Task Force meeting). I did not participate in the interval. I withdrew from that meeting in the afternoon for over an hour, thus missing some of the later presentations and discussion. I set this out in some detail since it should be clear that I have observed a minority of the process.

  7.  My impression was of the MRC still smarting from earlier criticism and taking considerable pains that the work of the Task Force be above reproach. I do not subscribe to the view that the Chairman had a "hidden agenda". At the last meeting high importance was generally attached to reaching some consensus since anything less might appear inconclusive and be impossible to action. This was achieved and a statement issued. It was only subsequently that divergent opinion emerged in relation to Mill Hill itself.

  8.  Given the tight deadline for submission of evidence, this is an account based primarily on memory of events rather than on a thorough trawl of Office records. I hope it remains of value to the Select Committee.

December 2004

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