Plans for an inquiry into the future of medical academe were outlined this week to the British Medical Association at a meeting in which there was an outburst by Colin Smith, a senior BMA figure, who spoke of a national crisis in academic medicine.
Sir Rex Richards will chair the inquiry, set up by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, which is to be funded primarily by the Association of Medical Research Charities and also by the Medical Research Council and the CVCP. The independent task force has been told to report on recruitment and retention of clinical academic staff in universities. It is also to consider the effect of the new NHS environment and workload on the ability of such staff to engage in teaching and research.
Sir Rex, former vice chancellor of Oxford University, described his approach to a meeting of the BMA's medical academics committee this week. At the same meeting Colin Smith, chair of the committee and a member of the new task force, said that such academics face a "triple whammy" of decreases in research funding, in teaching funding and in clinical funding.
Sir Rex said that the 12-strong task force has been chosen to be as broad and as senior as possible so that it cannot be accused of partisanship when it reports. Non-medical members include Robert Burgess, a sociologist and director of the Centre for Education and Development, Appraisal and Research at Warwick University; John Cooper, chief executive of Hammersmith Hospital, and Sir Christopher France, chairman of council at Queen Mary and Westfield College and a former permanent secretary of the Department of Health.
The task force hopes to visit every medical department this summer and early autumn, to issue detailed questionnaires to deans and their colleagues, and to interview "small groups of aspiring academics".
One of its principal aims will be to quantify complaints about academic medicine. The Government's reponse to a recent House of Lords select committee report included comments that the committee had provided no firm evidence of the extent of problems, saying that much of the evidence submitted had been anecdotal.