Charity funding for medical research has dropped for the first time in ten years, according to figures released by the Association of Medical Research Charities.
Nearly Pounds 22 million was wiped off funds spent on health research, a drop of 6 per cent, resulting in Pounds 342 million being spent over the last year. The Wellcome Trust, the biggest charity funder of medical research, accounted for Pounds 16 million of the drop. Its expenditure in the United Kingdom on medical research fell from Pounds 149 million in the year ending September 1994 to Pounds 133 million the following year.
Diana Garnham, association general secretary, said that there were many possible reasons for the fall. Charities may have switched funding to overseas scientists, or changed priorities, for example to patient treatment rather than research or to funding capital expenditure such as the building of laboratories, which is not included in the figures.
But smaller charities may be suffering from a drop in income as a result of the National Lottery.
The Wellcome Trust said that in 1995 it spent more on buildings, equipment, international research and its tropical units, which are not in AMRC figures.
Ms Garnham said: "This is an important signal that you cannot depend on the charity sector. The charity sector is vulnerable and it is important that there is a mix of different funding options." Charities perpetually fear that the Government is using them as a substitute for state funding rather than a complement to it.
Examples of drops include the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, whose expenditure on research dropped by nearly Pounds 1 million to Pounds 4.9 million; and nearly all charitable foundations, which may have been hit by interest rate falls.
But bigger charities are showing a rise in expenditure. The British Heart Foundation saw research spending up 10 per cent and Action Research up 18 per cent, by Pounds 500,000. The British Diabetic Association also increased.
More optimistic news came from the Charities Aid Foundation which last week published a major study. One growing area is NHS charitable trust funds. In 1993/94 they spent Pounds 60 million on research, a gradual increase of Pounds 13 million over the past decade.