Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr Steve Gamblin, former member of the MRC Task Force on the NIMR

  In the following sections I address some of the questions posed by the Select Committee to the MRC from the viewpoint of one of NIMR's Task Force representatives. The MRC selected some of the Task Force correspondence for publication on its website, some of which is marked confidential and some of which is not. I have illustrated some of my points with Task Force emails that were not selected by the MRC to appear on its website. I would ask that the Select Committee gives due consideration to the appropriateness of this material being made publicly available.

  Overall, I am disappointed with the process and effectiveness of the Task Force. This is unfortunate given the time and expense that went into it. The main problems I perceive were the lack of hard evidence to support the conclusions reached and the failure to keep the process focused on the key objectives. The latter was largely a result of handing over responsibility for the process to consultants, and the fact that the Task Force chairman clearly had an agenda that was not revealed to the Task Force at the outset. Our international Task Force colleagues are probably too discrete to say it, but our efforts to base the Task Force's work on data and evidence were largely a waste of time. Ultimately, however, the real problem is that the decision being taken forward is bad for science, bad for translation of our science and poor value for money.

  Q3.1  The Task Force concluded that it wanted the renewed NIMR to pursue an interdisciplinary approach to biomedical science.

  Data were presented to the Task Force by the NIMR representatives which showed the very extensive cross-disciplinary interactions already in place within the Institute (Attachment 1). This analysis is consistent with the conclusions reached by the MRC's strategic review of NIMR in 2000 (Attachment 2) that noted "The "added-value" of the Institute environment was clearly reflected in the number of high-quality integrated programmes involving interactions between different divisions and the sharing of expertise and technologies." The Task Force was also presented with data describing NIMR's very extensive external academic collaborations (Attachment 3).

  3.2  I am not aware that any such analysis was carried out to compare the effectiveness of NIMR's interdisciplinary collaborations (internal or external) with co-located medical research institutes.

  Q4.1  The Task Force was initially presented with evidence of the extent and range of NIMR's clinical collaborations. Schematic diagrams outlined the number and distribution of the extensive network of clinical collaborations (Attachment 4) with NIMR. In response to this one member of the Task Force, Professor Steve Tomlinson, asked the NIMR representatives to provide further information about the clinical contacts because of his expertise in this area. Consequently, two members of NIMR staff and two collaborating consultants from The Institute of Child Health/Great Ormond Street presented a detailed analysis of NIMR's clinical collaborations to Professor Tomlinson. A synopsis of these discussions was distributed to the Task Force (Attachment 5).

  Professor Tomlinson was entirely satisfied by the extent, depth and relevance of NIMR's clinical collaborations and agreed that for the purposes of training and research there were distinct advantages to clinician scientists having time in a research environment that was physically removed from the pressures of clinics and patients. He was particularly keen on the role NIMR did and could play in clinician scientist training.

  I am unaware of any comparable data provided to the Task Force regarding the ability or output of medical research institutes co-located with a HEI/Hospital to transfer their science into clinical research.

  NIMR staff undertook a series of discussions with collaborating clinician scientists to get their input into how the renewed NIMR could effectively increase its clinical collaborations and training. Consequently, Professor Tomlinson assisted in the development of six specific proposals that were sent to the Task Force and later posted on the MRC's Task Force website (Attachment 6) (not printed). These proposals were never discussed by the Task Force.

  4.2  At the fifth TF meeting a majority (four [PN, RAF, SJG and RLB], out of the seven, TF members present) thought that the Mill Hill site was a potential long-term option. Subsequently, a "majority" of the TF came to the conclusion that it was not. The email that the Task Force Chairman sent to Steve Tomlinson asking him to withdraw his suggestion that Mill Hill be taken forward as an equal 3rd option (Attachment 7) (not printed) makes it clear that the pressure for excluding Mill Hill as an option came from the MRC CEO and not from the work of the Task Force or its consultations.

  4.3  After the final Task Force meeting the MRC CEO decided to circulate the draft conclusions of the meeting to the Chairman of the MRC and the Director General of the Research Councils, Sir Keith O'Nions, before the Task Force had agreed to the final version. This meant that what these individuals, and presumably other parts of Whitehall, first saw was the draft statement that lacked the essential clause of conditionality about the Task Force's preference for a central London location. This statement, proposed by Richard Flavell and supported by the Task Force, reads ". . . However, it will be essential to develop a partnership for this move, more attractive than possible with NIMR at Mill Hill." This statement reflects the spirit and intentions of the final meeting; a move to central London was preferred if it provided better facilities and environment for NIMR's science than could be developed at Mill Hill. The circulation of the draft version without this crucial conditionality seriously misrepresented a key recommendation of the Task Force.

  4.4  Towards the end of preparing the final Task Force report it became apparent that the MRC secretariat would not correct the text to reflect the views of all the Task Force members. The MRC CEO took the decision to send to Council, as the final agreed version of the report, a document that he knew the NIMR representatives did not agree with. We had suggested various compromises that would enable our views to be incorporated but he decided arbitrarily to omit our views. Subsequently, the two NIMR representatives wrote directly to MRC Council members to point out the problems with the final version of the report. This act of omitting our well-known views from the TF final report completely marginalized us from the process.

  4.5  Before the July meeting of Council the MRC showed the Council briefing paper to NIMR and other Union representatives (Attachment 8). This briefing paper makes no mention at all of the possibility of NIMR being developed at Mill Hill or of the conditionality in the Task Force's recommendations. The primary information given to the MRC Council was then also seriously flawed and misleading.

  Q6.  The Task Force had three main streams of input from consultation exercises.

  6.1  A formal consultation exercise was carried out for the Task Force using a questionnaire designed by McKinseys. This questionnaire was web-based (although other types of submission were accepted) and there were over 1,000 respondents. The numeric analysis of this consultation was carried out by McKinseys and is provided here in graphical form (Attachment 9). A qualitative analysis of free-format comments written by some of the correspondents was undertaken by an independent analyst, Deborah Holman, but was not available to the Task Force until after its final meeting. These comments were essentially similar in nature to the results of the quantitative analysis.

  The overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) chose a single independent site as their preferred organisational model with 83% preferring Option 1—enhancing NIMR at Mill Hill with a focus on basic and translational research. In the Independent Report on the consultation exercise it says, in the executive summary, "1,058 consultees responded to the questionnaire, the vast majority individuals. The organisational response was poor."

  The views of Mill Hill staff and the vast majority (83% of 1,036) of respondents to the formal Task Force consultation were given no weight at all in the recommendations of the Task Force or the conclusions of the MRC Council. More than this, the preferred option of these stakeholders was explicitly excluded as a possible option for further consideration.

  6.2  The views of NIMR staff, relating to the various options under consideration for the final meeting of the Task Force, were sought in a series of group interview sessions conducted by McKinseys at Mill Hill. Reports on these interview sessions were presented to the Task Force prior to its final meeting.

  NIMR staff unanimously preferred the development of the renewed NIMR at Mill Hill.

  6.3  The views of various individuals were gathered by the McKinsey consultants to represent the views of certain organisations and presented to the Task Force as interview notes. The individuals concerned were largely selected by the MRC secretariat. The NIMR Task Force members provided a long list of clinicians and academics for interview but only two interviews were presented to the Task Force although we have subsequently discovered that at least two other nominees were interviewed but their views were not presented to the Task Force.

  Q7.  Early on in the Task Force process Paul Nurse made the argument that moving the Institute outside of the London area would constitute de facto closure of the Institute because most of the staff would not relocate. Overall the Task Force seemed to be of the opinion that retaining current staff was important because of their high quality and relevance to the future of biomedical research. Evidence was also presented to the Task Force by the NIMR members showing that a high proportion of the NIMR's clinical collaborations were with clinical specialities in London. It would therefore be nonsense, from a clinical translation viewpoint, to move the institute out of London. It seems the Task Force took relatively little account of the importance for NIMR of the wealth of collaborating clinical specialities in London since, when the final Task Force report was being prepared, the MRC secretariat refused to include a statement to this effect in the executive summary.

  There were two main sources of data available to the Task Force concerning a move to central London on staff retention and recruitment. Firstly, data were presented to the Task Force showing the very high rates of application for animal technician posts at Mill Hill. These figures are important because of the difficulties in recruiting to these posts in central London. Secondly, in the interviews conducted with NIMR staff by McKinseys and the subsequent reports presented to the Task Force, it is clear that most of the scientific staff have severe misgivings about moving to central London. In some sense that is predictable in that the scientific staff at NIMR have all chosen to come to NIMR at Mill Hill as opposed to taking up positions elsewhere. For these staff the scientific advantages of working at NIMR in Mill Hill are decisive and if the Institute is going to be reconstructed in central London they would probably consider all employment options available.

  Q8.  Although the initial brief said that the Task Force should start with a clean sheet and that the process was not driven by financial considerations it soon became apparent that the Task Force chairman believed that only a certain sort of recommendation would be acceptable on financial grounds (Attachment 10). It is then all the more surprising that the options available to the final Task Force meeting had no robust estimates of the likely costs. In fact, the Task Force undertook no cost analysis of its own at all regarding relocation options. Such "estimates" of capital and recurrent costs that were presented to the Task Force were provided by the bidders. Only in the case of Mill Hill was an independent analysis of potential capital costs provided by external consultants appointed for the Task Force. The likely financial implications of the two central London options that appeared in the final Task Force report were only available to the Task Force a matter of days before the completion deadline and were added to the report rather than being a part of the decision making process.

23 November 2004

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