Health charities’ research still needs state support

Medical research will suffer if coalition stops giving generously, AMRC head tells Elizabeth Gibney

June 20, 2013

Charities need a commitment that government support will not be cut in the 2015-16 spending review, the chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities has said.

The government currently spends £198 million a year on the Charity Research Support Fund, distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This covers the indirect costs of the almost £1 billion that charities spend on UK university research each year.

“We haven’t had a commitment that [the fund] will extend beyond 2014-15 and certainly not about the level at which it will continue…and I think charities need it,” Sharmila Nebhrajani told Times Higher Education.

“I think the other thing is the important signalling role that the government plays in the way it supports science. What would it say to the donating public who are still finding a share of household income [for charities] if the government is not finding its share?”

Overall spending on research by medical charities in the UK was flat in 2012 at £1.2 billion, according to data from the association published on 20 June.

Ms Nebhrajani said that the figure was pleasing under the economic circumstances, but she added that, in real terms, spending had not yet recovered to pre-2008 levels.

Meanwhile, the estimated total amount donated to medical charities fell from £11 billion in 2011 to £9.3 billion in 2012, which may have an effect on available future funding.

Ms Nebhrajani added that since 2008-09, medical charities have allocated a reduced portion of their otherwise rising spending on research (65 per cent in 2012, down from 77 per cent in 2008), as demands on other services such as care, support and patient information have risen during the economic downturn.

“We have to make sure research as a long-term need doesn’t get sacrificed…to provide increasing care and support,” she added.

Figures show that the proportion of research spending by AMRC members that goes overseas has also increased, accounting for 10 per cent in 2012, up from 5 per cent in 2009. Ms Nebhrajani said that this was especially true of work translating research into medicines because, in some fields, UK capacity is smaller than charities would like.

Overall research spending from the association’s 124 members fell in 2010 after five years of rapid growth. In 2012 it changed the way it analyses member data, with figures from 2008, 2009 and 2010 being reported previously as 2009‑10, 2010-11 and 2011-12.

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