Spending Review 2010 - HC 618Written evidence submitted by The Academy of Medical Sciences (SR 22)

Overview

The Academy of Medical Sciences welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s inquiry on the 2010 Spending Review.

The positive relationship between world class medical science and national gains in health and wealth is well established. The UK’s superior medical research base, our co-coordinated landscape of private, public and charity funders, and the research potential of the NHS give us an unparalleled global competitive advantage. Retaining and harnessing these strengths is reliant on the Government’s continued commitment to the publicly funded science base that in turn leverages substantial additional support from industry and charities. We welcome the fact that, in this period of substantial public sector cuts, the Chancellor recognised the fundamental role science will play in economic recovery and provided an unexpectedly good settlement for science and research. Protecting spending on health research and science (via favourable settlements to both the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research) means that the UK can continue to make extraordinary contributions to the translational science agenda. Furthermore, since many of the immediate challenges facing society today, such as ageing or obesity, require expertise from across the full range of medical, natural science, engineering, humanities and social science disciplines, a good settlement across the research base was important in order to safeguard the valuable advances that will benefit patients and society. We were pleased to see the funding for UKCMRI and Diamond confirmed in the Spending Review Settlement, and the recent additional commitment to capital in the 2011 Budget.

It is important now to focus on the funds that will be available in the coming years and to ensure that these are spent effectively, for example by promoting co-ordination amongst funders. We welcome the Government’s commitment in its “Plan for Growth” to implement the recommendations of the Academy’s recent report on the regulation and governance of health research and to reduce the unnecessary bureaucracy that is wasting valuable funding. , While the decision to protect the science budget in cash terms is most welcome, this should be considered in the context of the substantial investments in science being made by our international competitors such as China, India, Brazil, Germany, France and the USA. We must therefore maintain the ability to regenerate key research areas when more funding becomes available. This will allow the UK to remain a competitive part of the international research endeavour and to exploit opportunities for support from industry and charities both in the UK and overseas.

Monitoring the Long-term Impacts

If it is the Government’s intention to build the economy via knowledge-based industries then any perverse impacts of the spending review and other changes must be identified and addressed. The long-term impacts of a flat-cash settlement across much of the science base and efficiency savings that have been required across the Research Councils are not yet clear.

In terms of ensuring a sustainable pipeline of researchers, we have yet to see whether the increase in university tuition fees from 2012 will lead to a reduction in medical students undertaking intercalated degrees (medical degrees that include an additional year that often allows students to undertake a research project) and the number of students (both clinical and non-clinical) applying for PhD studentships. The raising of the retirement age will lead to less turnover in staff and there may be a need for “new blood schemes” to attract the next generation. In the medical sphere, the £21 billion efficiency savings in the NHS could adversely impact on research budgets, and the scope for clinicians to conduct research. More generally, this will put pressure on the partnerships between universities, medical schools and healthcare providers that underpin success in academic medicine. Proposed changes to the way that the medical workforce is trained could further undermine these relationships. Finally, while a lack of general capital investment is sustainable for one to two years, after that it will become problematic; we cannot rely on charitable foundations to fund the necessary infrastructure and equipment in the long term.

It will therefore be important that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has the resources to monitor the ongoing impact of the settlement and related changes that impact on researchers, and to seek input from the research community as it did to inform the 2010 Spending Review bid. In addition to identifying threats, BIS and the scientific community will need to exploit opportunities presented by the economic recovery and be ready with proposals for initiatives for investment that can further stimulate the growth. We regard the translational research area as a priority for future investment.

The National Academies play an important role in monitoring the health and sustainability of their respective scientific communities. The Academy of Medical Sciences does not unfortunately receive a Grant from BIS, but we welcome the fact that its support to the other three National Academies was maintained in the 2010 settlement. We hope that the Committee will support us in forging future opportunities for the Academy to join the other National Academies in receiving funding as part of the science settlement.

The Process

We were grateful to be one of the bodies formally consulted by Sir Adrian Smith FRS about the spending review. This allowed us to be a focal point for the views of the biomedical research community across universities, hospitals, research councils, industry and charity funders. We were able to provide evidence of the health and wealth benefits of biomedical research and the vital role played by the public science budget in leveraging funding from private and philanthropic sources. Our efforts were also focused on influencing decisions about funding for research made in the Department of Health (DH). The feedback that we have received suggests that these efforts helped to secure a positive settlement in both BIS and DH, which has been beneficial for the whole science base. The effective communication between BIS and the Academy throughout the process helped us to ensure that the Academy’s input and our joint activities with other stakeholders in our community had maximum impact. We are grateful to Sir Adrian and his staff for ensuring this open dialogue before and after the settlement, which also helped to our discussions with Treasury and key influencers.

The Academy of Medical Sciences

The Academy of Medical Sciences promotes advances in medical science and campaigns to ensure these are converted into healthcare benefits for society. Our Fellows are the UK’s leading medical scientists from hospitals and general practice, academia, industry and the public service.

27 April 2011

Prepared 7th November 2011