Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Sir John Skehel, Director, National Institute for Medical Research

  I'd like to comment on three issues raised by the MRC presentations at the Inquiry on 1 December.

  1.  On several occasions Professor Blakemore mentioned the Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park and the Stoker Report on it in January 1986. He quoted from the report (Q13) in responding to Dr Turner: "Because of the way medicine is developing . . . etc. This should be achieved by the move of the NIMR". Perhaps there has been a drafting problem but this quotation is exact in detail until the last sentence "This should be achieved by the move of the NIMR" which is not present in the copy of the Stoker report that I have available. The section of the Stoker report at issue is Section 2 which had 17 subsections; NIMR is not mentioned in one of them.

  I have it on good authority that no serious suggestion of a move of NIMR to Northwick Park was made to my predecessor and certainly neither on my appointment in 1987 nor in the 17 years since then has the Stoker report or any suggestion of transfer of NIMR from Mill Hill been mentioned to me by MRC, until I was given the FIS subcommittee report on 31 March 2003.

  I suspect that Professor Blakemore is wrong in all his conclusions on the Stoker report and that as a new CEO he may be fighting yesterday's battles for yesterday's men.

  2.  Professor Savill in answer to Q15 from Dr Turner referred to the numbers of clinical fellows at the Clinical Sciences Centre (54), at his own institution in the last five years (33 clinical training fellows and 13 higher levels), and at one of the Colleges that submitted, 189 clinical training fellows and 22 clinical scientists. He and subsequently Professor Blakemore consider that the number of nine clinicians scientists in training at Mill Hill is disappointingly small. There are two points in relation to NIMR performance in this area:

    (a)  There may well be differences in nomenclature for clinicians in training and different counting procedures. As far as I can gather from the following communications from a senior colleague at the Clinical Sciences Centre this may have led to an inappropriate comparison.

    "I suspect the number quoted is so high because many Hammersmith clinicians are affiliated with the CSC and their fellows are being counted in this exercise. In terms of marrying basic and clinical science however the fellows that count are those that cross the boundary, ie those that go to work in basic science labs. As I say this number is probably on a par with NIMR and certainly not dramatically higher."

    (b)  In the NIMR quinquennial review in which MRC endorsed NIMR strategy for the period 2001-06, MRC complimented the Institutes performance and increased its capital equipment and recurrent expenses budgets. No major changes in direction were recommended.

  To some extent Professor Savill and the CEO are importing an issue, which will of course be addressed by NIMR in the appropriate future reviews. This is also the case for Professor Blakemore's additional comment on the proportion of NIMR budget that derives from sources other than MRC. Our performance and strategy in this regard were also endorsed by MRC for the 2001-06 period.

  3.  The MRC Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver and the CEO Professor Blakemore both raised the issue of the state of the NIMR building at Mill Hill and, the committee were given similar information in the session before the inquiry by Lord Sainsbury. All three indicated that there was concern that the building, according to the advice that they received, was not capable in the long term of meeting the needs of the Institute.

  In fact during the last 12 months the site has been surveyed for MRC by Powis Hughes, Ove Arup and NIFES. There were no adverse comments from the consultants regarding the Institute building structure but there were comments on its increasing life expectancy through investment, huge potential for development and recommendations for routine budgets to maintain decoration, plant and fixtures/fittings. The building construction is of 600 mm thick solid brick wall elevations with an internal steel column and beam support frame structure suspending the steel reinforced concrete floors. There are no notable defects in this structure or history of any necessary structural repairs since its building in the 1930s. There is no reason to suspect that this structure will fail or require anything more than routine repairs for the long term future.

  On the issue of refurbishment standards, MRC investment during the last 10 years has allowed a refurbishment programme for all the laboratories that is more than 70% complete, and that has led to the increased life expectancy referred to above.

December 2004

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