Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Rosie Winterton MP, Minister of State, Department of Health

  During the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee session on 1 November, I promised to write to you with further information regarding the issue of whether the Department for International Development (DfID) is able to fund work carried out by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). I also agreed to write with further information regarding the collection of clinical evidence during a pandemic.

  With regard to the first issue, and on further investigation, it appears that DfID chooses not to fund work at the HPA directly, rather than being unable to do so. DfID is very unlikely to fund HPA directly and separately, as it works on the basis of responding to specific demands from developing countries, not offers to supply technical assistance from agencies in the UK, or other developed countries. DfID would, however, consider funding work at the HPA through WHO or other multilateral organisations, as part of a co-ordinated response to the needs of third countries.

  On information collection, we need to make a clear distinction between the collection and analysis of data for public health and health protection surveillance purposes and setting up research projects. Surveillance of infectious diseases is not research and does not require the formal approval of a Research Ethics Committee. As part of medical practice it is governed by the general ethical requirements of medical work - albeit with a population as well as an individual focus - so it still has an ethical framework, but not one monitored by research ethics committees.

  We are setting up a working group to examine these issues with the aim of ensuring that we have the protocols agreed and in place before a pandemic arrives. The Health Protection Agency has already produced a report in a similar issue for CJD, which will form a useful start for this work.

22 November 2005

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