Charities: cancer research cash eaten up by red tape

October 31, 2003

MPs and charities are calling on the government to ringfence cancer research funding amid fears that millions of pounds that could help find a cure is being spent on red tape.

The Department of Health estimates that the government spends almost £190 million a year on cancer research. The money is supposed to be purely to fund the research.

But despite government reassurances, many organisations are convinced that money is being diverted from researchers at the coalface into administration and bureaucracy.

The chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, Ian Gibson, told The THES : "People are telling me the money is not getting through. We want the government to get out there and lay down the law about this."

At the Britain Against Cancer conference last week, which was hosted by Dr Gibson's group, there was overwhelming support for a move to ringfence cancer research funding. More than 80 per cent of delegates voted in favour of such a step.

This idea was originally mooted in the Commons science and technology committee's report on cancer research in March last year.

The report accuses the government of "rebadging" existing funding to make its research budget appear larger. It calls for the government to release an annual breakdown of spending to prove money was going to research.

But leading figures in the field fear cancer research money is not secure.

Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, Britain's largest cancer charity, said: "It is quite clear that over the past few years cancer research money has been siphoned off to clear deficits in other areas."

Next year, three-quarters of the National Health Service budget will be distributed at a local level by primary care trusts, and there is considerable concern in the sector about the implications for cancer funding.

Dr Sullivan said: "We still don't know what primary care trusts' priorities will be, and there will be severe pressure on (cancer research) funding from other areas."

He warned that research costs were increasing because of the increased complexity of science research and growing levels of bureaucracy.

"Some of the research-active trusts will view research as some sort of luxury. But that's not true," he said.

The call for more protection for funding was backed last week by a Mori survey published by cancer information charity CancerBACUP. According to the survey, 60 per cent of the public wanted cancer funding to be ringfenced, and 92 per cent were opposed to cancer money being dispensed at local level.

Ringfencing may prove to be a political hot potato. Dr Sullivan said: "If you are doing it for cancer, then why not for other diseases?"

But, he said, cancer was a specific case and ringfencing was necessary. "We wouldn't need to do it if the money that should be spent on research was being spent on research," he said.

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