Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr E M Armstrong, Chief Medical Officer, Scotland

  1.  Let me start by declaring and interest. I am a member of the Council of MRC appointed as a representative of the Scottish Executive Health Department.

  2.  I am a full time permanent civil servant.

  3.  I was a member of the Forward Investment Strategy (FIS) committee set up by MRC Council.

  4.  MRC is required to demonstrate accountability for the considerable investment of public funds which it controls. As a part of that accountability it is required to demonstrate that its forward investment strategy is focussed on delivering the strategic aims of the organisation as a whole, including delivering support for the part that MRC plays in the overall research effort of the Research Councils accountable to OST.

  5.  As a part of this process the FIS committee was asked to appraise the forward plans of all the major MRC units, in Cambridge, Harwell and London, benchmarking them against the strategic aims of MRC to 2010 and checking that there was maximum synergy and minimum duplication or overlap between the programmes and objectives of each unit, and that the units as a whole would be in a position to deliver the MRC strategic objectives.

  6.  Of particular interest to me from a Health Department perspective was the need to ensure that MRC was able to deliver patient benefit from its research, that there was a clear track from the bench to the bedside and that translational research capacity was included in the overall portfolio offered by the MRC units.

  7.  As the work of FIS committee developed, my recollection is that a clear distinction emerged between the position of NIMR, Mill Hill and the other units at Imperial College, Cambridge and Harwell. The latter were all able to clearly articulate their strategic objectives in a way which was demonstrably in synergy with each other and with the aims and objectives of MRC as a whole.

  8.  In respect of NIMR the impression, as I recall it, was different. We were not able to gain any sense that the work of NIMR itself was organised and co-ordinated with any strategic direction. There was, and is, world class work going on, but my impression was that there was little attempt being made to form it into a cohesive whole. While there was undoubtedly a sincere commitment to continue work to a world class standard, the principal objective was to continue with the historic direction of travel. There was no sense that this work had to play into the overall forward objectives of MRC. There was almost a feeling of resentment from NIMR that MRC should even be asking these questions, that it was really a question of MRC being there to support NIMR rather than NIMR playing a part in MRC.

  9.  The other key difference between NIMR and the other units was of course in respect of its patient focus. The MRC is in the business of medical research and there is a clear need as I have said to demonstrate the track from the bench to the bedside. We were not satisfied, despite the large number clinical collaborations involving NIMR staff, that there was any strategic intent to address this at Mill Hill nor was there any way in which FIS could see that it could easily be addressed.

  10.  The overall conclusion of the FIS committee was that while there was a clear need for much of the work of NIMR to continue, and that it should continue to do so to world class standards, there was a need to develop a forward direction for this work in synergy with MRC strategy, that some of it would benefit from being carried out in a context of greater critical scientific mass such as could be provided in one of the other units and that all of it needed to be carried out in a clinical environment rather than in an isolated setting.

  11.  It was clear to the FIS committee that achieving this would be difficult on the current site at Mill Hill and thus the suggestion emerged that other locations for the work of NIMR should be considered and we so recommended to council.

  12.  Given the very tight deadline for the submission of evidence, this is an account based on my recollection of events rather than on a thorough trawl of my papers from the time. I hope nonetheless that it is of value to the Select Committee.

19 November 2004

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