Written evidence submitted by The Association
of Medical Research Charities (PR 90)|
The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
welcomes the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's
inquiry into peer review. We wish to draw the following points
to the committee's attention.
The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
is a membership organisation of the leading medical and health
research charities in the UK. Working with our member charities
and partners, we aim to support the sector's effectiveness and
advance medical research by developing best practice, providing
information and guidance, improving public dialogue about research
and science, and influencing government.
Formally established in 1987, AMRC now has 126 member
charities that contributed over £1 billion in 2009-10 to
research in the UK, aimed at tackling diseases such as heart disease,
cancer and diabetes, as well as rarer conditions like cystic fibrosis
and motor neurone disease. Medical research charities contribute
approximately one third of all public expenditure on medical and
health research in the UK. www.amrc.org.uk
Given our role in support of our member charities,
our comments are necessarily focused on the use of peer review
in research funding.
It is an AMRC membership requirement that charities
use peer review to decide how to allocate their funding to health
research. We believe that this commitment to the use of peer review
by our members is an important contributor to the UK's leadership
in health research.
AMRC provides substantial advice and assistance to
its member charities to ensure that they implement peer review
efficiently and effectively. As well as general guidance and good
practice guidelines to charities (see: http://www.amrc.org.uk/training--research-practice_peer-review
) members can also access 1:1 support, formal training and workshops,
and regular information to ensure that they can maintain up-to-date
systems and approaches.
The UK charity sector's comprehensive commitment
to the use of peer reviewAMRC represents approximately
94% of all funding available from the sectoris unmatched
anywhere else in the world. For our colleagues across science
as well as donors, supporters and members of the public, it shows
that medical charities are committed to funding research of the
highest quality and to independence, impartiality and transparency
in the distribution of research funds. Furthermore, we believe
that use of peer review is important to ensuring public trust
and confidence in our research activities and that their donations
are being invested wisely.
The AMRC quality mark, including at its core this
commitment to peer review, acts as a clear indicator to those
seeking funding that the funder, however big or small, is a reliable
source of funding with good, clear standards
may wish to note that other funders and public agencies such as
the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) regard AMRC membership
as an important "quality mark" of standards in the sector.
For instance, university eligibility for funds from the Government's
Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) is partly predicated on the
relevant charity operating to AMRC membership standards.
We would hope that, in the course of its inquiry,
the committee is in a position to note the considerable time,
effort and resource that individual scientists and researchers
provide freely and willingly to charities as part of their peer
review systems, either as members of charity scientific committees
or as reviewers of grant applications.
AMRC is an association of its members and not a regulator.
Nonetheless, since 1996 we have conducted a regular audit of all
our members to ensure that they are maintaining appropriate systems
of peer review that meet our requirements in terms of: accountability;
balance, independence, rotation, impartiality and independent/external
Since our last audit in 2005-06, we have reported
the results of our audit to our external partners as well as publishing
it on our website. The report is used as the basis for further
activitywhether in terms of supporting individual charities
to improve what they are doing, or in providing sector-wide guidance
on key issues such as the use of triage, conflicts of interest,
implementation of peer review by single institute charities, and
patient and public involvement in peer review.
Our audit in 2005-06 showed that 88% of our charities
were fully compliant with AMRC's principles of peer review. 12%
faced challenges in respect of implementation and have received
guidance and support as a result. We are currently in the process
of auditing our member charities and would be pleased to provide
the committee with a copy of our final report and recommendations
in due course.
AMRC's audit not only provides charities and others
with useful benchmarking data but it also provides us with important
information on activity within the system. Our 2005-06 audit showed
that of 8,400 applications considered by charities, 2,300 awards
were made, and that 13,000 people (the vast majority scientists
and researchers) served on charity peer review panels.
Given that there is already anecdotal evidence from
AMRC that the number of applications to charities is increasing
because of cuts in the science budget elsewhere, we expect the
pressures on charities in terms of managing this workload to increase.
For smaller charities in particular with less infrastructure at
their disposal, this is a significant issue.
We would identify a number of cross-sector trends
in the implementation of peer review by charities, notably:
increasing number of our member charities now involve patients
and the public in their peer review systems. While lay membership
of scientific panels remains the predominant mechanism for this
involvement, a number of charities are now adopting quite innovative
ways of involving patients in their research funding decisions.
The committee may wish to consult our 2009 report "Natural
Groundpaths to patient and public involvement in research"
for further examples and information: http://www.amrc.org.uk/training--research-practice_peer-review
trend of the last few years has been for medical charities to
increasingly collaborate in the funding and conduct of research.
This trend has been amplified by economic pressures. Our 2010
project and report "Ways and Means" demonstrated
that charities are now looking to share peer review processes
and administrative support for peer review (http://www.amrc.org.uk/our-members_ways--means).
is clear that from our latest tracking survey of the impact of
the economic downturn on AMRC member charities that many charities
have made, and will continue to seek, efficiencies in the implementation
of peer review to reduce costs.
We hope that the above evidence is of interest to
the committee and its members. AMRC would be pleased to present
oral evidence with its member charities or supply further information
The Association of Medical Research Charities