Coordination and collaboration:
the future for the United Kingdom
8.70. In this country the research councils alone
spend £150m a year of taxpayers' money on ageing research,
broadly defined. Ultimate responsibility for the effective use
of these resources, and hence for the coordination of this research,
must lie with a government department and with a senior Minister
responsible to Parliament for the use of these funds. That department
can take a strategic view of the whole topic.
8.71. Which government department should be responsible?
There seem to us to be three possibilities. The first is DWP.
As we explained in the previous chapter,
it is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who has
been chosen by the Government as the Government's Champion for
Older People. Whatever the qualifications for that title of the
holder of that office, it seems to us that DWP has no serious
role to play in the coordination of scientific research, and we
mention that department here only for completeness.
8.72. A second possibility is the Department
of Health, which is of course responsible for the NHS, for the
health of the population, and specifically for the health of older
people. It also has its own research programmes which need to
be coordinated with the rest. Many, probably most, of the relevant
research programmes are directly related to the health of older
people. Plainly DoH has strong claims for the role of coordinating
8.73. Nevertheless, although the choice is not
an easy one, we believe that it is the Department of Trade and
Industry, and under it the Office of Science and Technology, which
should be responsible for the coordination of ageing related research.
In this we agree with Help the Aged, which favours "the appointment
of a 'champion for ageing research' in a central government department
such as the Office of Science and Technology, to lead and direct
a national research agenda on ageing."
OST already has responsibility for the research councils, and
will therefore be aware of their virtues, and perhaps also of
some of the failings which we have pinpointed. But a more important
consideration is that the head of OST is the Government Chief
Scientific Adviser (CSA). As such he is not, like other CSAs (or
the Chief Medical Officer on DoH), responsible for only one department;
he reports directly to the Prime Minister, and in that capacity
can be regarded as being attached to the Cabinet Office.
8.74. The ultimate responsibility must remain
with the department, and its Ministers. OST will however need
to set up a coordinating body to supply the necessary strategic
direction. It should be possible for such a body to include representatives
of all the major funders, public and private, without becoming
"large and unwieldy".
This body should, unlike the Funders' Forum, meet several times
a year at regular intervals; it should consult those involved
in research on what they see as the most fruitful areas of research,
and on what they regard as the gaps needing to be filled; it should
take account of research being undertaken in other European countries
and further afield (in particular in the United States and in
Japan); and on this basis it should formulate and publish guidelines
determining the direction to be taken by research. Thereafter
it will monitor developments, review the activities of the research
councils, call them to account for their activities, ensure that
they are following the guidelines, review these periodically,
and if necessary amend them. It will also be well placed to monitor
research capacity for such an important topic, and to ensure that
it is built up until it is adequate for the purpose.
8.75. We are not suggesting the setting up of
a new non-departmental public body. The responsibility must remain
that of DTI and OST, and of the CSA as head of OST. Moreover the
scale of the problem does not warrant this. But the work of coordination
will require allocation of sufficient funds for the infrastructure
to enable this work to be carried out efficiently and in a manner
which commands the confidence of the research community.
8.76. We mentioned earlier the creation of the
National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) as being a successful
forum for collaboration between funders.
Professor Souhami said that "the creation of the National
Cancer Research Institute has been one of the best things that
the UK has done in terms of pulling together funding agencies
around a common cause. What was really important there was that
the Department of Health and the Government injected a small but
sufficient amount of cash into the National Cancer Research Network
and the National Translation Cancer Research Network to lubricate
the research process and its translation into therapeutics. It
was not a huge amount of money, £20 million or so a year,
but it was incredibly important in terms of getting the whole
structure going."(Q 500) It is moreover not a vastly
greater sum than the £12 million already committed to be
invested in the NDA.
8.77. Dr Goodwin agreed that the creation of
a similar body would be the single best thing that could be done
in the ageing research area. It seems to us that the NCRI is a
model which should be carefully studied. It cannot be followed
slavishly: ageing is a broader topic embracing a wider range of
disciplines. But, with appropriate modification and adaptation,
the NCRI represents the sort of body we have in mind. Professor
Sally Davies seemed to agree: "
we are taking the
opportunity to try to make all of the funders' for aand
this is no exception, the one for ageingmore effective
... the model that has worked [is] the National Cancer Research
Institute. That really has shown that, by bringing together the
charities, the research councils, the Department of Health and
everyone, they can map what the gaps are and be strategic."(Q 141)
8.78. We emphasise the limits of the responsibilities
of DTI and OST. First, they will of course (like the Department
for Health and Human Services and the NIA in the United States)
have no control over how charities and other private funders allocate
their funds; but they can and should have considerable influence.
It must be in the interest of all concerned for there to be close
collaboration between the work of the public and private sectors.
Secondly, strategic direction and coordination does not involve
the assessment of individual projects or of applications for research
grants. Within the parameters of the strategic direction, these
are matters which must remain the responsibility of the research
councils, which are best qualified to undertake such assessments.
And lastly, this is work which can and must be carried out without
putting on researchers any additional bureaucratic burden. Consultation
must not involve imposing any routine requirement for the provision
of information. Those who wish to submit their views will of course
be free to do so, but the inclusion on this body of a few senior
and trusted members of the research community should be enough
to ensure that it is kept informed of the main developments in
8.79. Much of the success of such a body will
depend on its being directed by a person who, while having the
necessary authority for the purpose and commanding the confidence
of the research community, has the time to devote to this task.
The right person will be attracted to this post only if he or
she believes that the direction of this body will have a major
influence for good on ageing-related research in this country.
Initially at least, this may need to be a full-time post. We do
not believe that this can be an additional responsibility of the
Director-General of Research Councils. His task is limited to
the supervision of the research councils. He has responsibilities
for their coordination with each other, but this might well conflict
with the responsibility for coordinating their work with other
departments, and with other public and private funders.
8.80. In formulating its strategic objectives,
this body will need to bear in mind that the long-term goals of
all research into ageing include the improvement of the health
and well-being of people in this country and overseas, and support
for the scientific community in this country and the economy of
the country. We in no way wish to minimise the importance of "pure"
scientific research, but even this cannot be conducted in a vacuum.
8.81. Among the first tasks of this body will
be to carry out an audit of what is currently being undertaken
in the field of ageing research, concentrating on projects which
have ageing as their primary focus, or in which ageing is a secondary
but nevertheless important factor. This should include projects
financed by government departments, by the research councils and
by the private sector. Without this basic information there can
be no effective coordination.
8.82. Lastly and most importantly, among the
main responsibilities of this body will be to supervise the training
and career development of researchers in this field. Research
into the scientific aspects of ageing in the UK can only thrive
if the conditions are right for the best young researchers to
be attracted to the subject, and to remain in this country to
undertake the research.
8.83. We conclude that the bodies currently
responsible for the coordination of ageing-related research in
the UK are not doing the job. The situation needs to be transformed.
We believe however that this can be done without setting up a
body modelled on the United States National Institute on Aging.
8.84. The responsibility for coordination
must lie with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Office
of Science and Technology. The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser
will have an important part to play.
8.85. DTI and OST should set up a body with
the membership, constitution, powers and funding necessary to
provide the strategic oversight and direction of ageing-related
8.86. When deciding on the structure
of this body, DTI and OST should learn from the successful structure
of the National Cancer Research Institute.
8.87. Close collaboration with charities and
private funders must be ensured by allowing them suitable representation.
8.88. There must be liaison with similar bodies
in other countries, and developments in those countries must be
taken into account.
8.89. Among the most important responsibilities
of this body will be to promote research into ageing as a career
for the best young researchers, and to supervise career development.