Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report

4  Health research in the UK

14. The Review recommends that the strategy set out by the OSCHR will include targets and objectives for the MRC and the NIHR. It will also set UK health research priorities and identify those public and private sector projects that address unmet health needs so that they can benefit from some institutional and procedural advantages, for example faster approval for conducting clinical trials. The Royal Society told us that that reliance on setting health priorities targets from such a top-down approach may divert attention from "more readily soluble and innovative research".[15] We too are concerned that defining targets is not necessarily compatible with funding the most effective research, and Sir David told us:

"In the report we are very specific about the fact that OSCHR should undertake performance measurement of what is going on. If you are measuring performance, you have to measure performance against specific objectives. We have used the word 'targets' here, but it is performance against objectives. There is no point in measuring performance if you do not have objectives against which to measure it."[16]

We were pleased to hear Sir David's explanation of his use of the word 'targets'. We support the setting of priorities, but we expect OSCHR to ensure that the best research in all fields is funded and that research outside the priorities is adequately supported. We expect performance monitoring to be done without the use of rigid targets.

15. The Review discussed the importance of research in the developed world that contributes to the scientific understanding and treatment of diseases that predominantly affect the developing world, particularly malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.[17] The Committee noted that there may be a danger that research into these disease areas may suffer as priority would be given to projects that would primarily address UK healthcare concerns. Sir David agreed that part of the research spend should be available for the benefit of developing countries.[18] The allocation for this type of research expenditure would come from OSCHR, as part of its overall strategy to determine funding priorities. In setting out its joint research plan for the MRC and the NIHR, OSCHR must ensure that research that would benefit the developing world is part of the overall strategy. We recommend that there be clear mechanisms, structures or representations to ensure that there is adequate advocacy of developing world health research priority needs within OSCHR.

15   As above Back

16   Q 33 Back

17   HM Treasury, A Review of UK Health Research Funding, December 2006, para 5.23; Back

18   Q 61 Back

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