Clinical ratings queried

March 7, 1997

HEALTH service research directors are to meet with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to discuss the "poor scores" for clinical medicine in the research assessment exercise.

Eric Thomas, head of Southampton University medical school, and John Gabbay, professor of public health medicine at Southampton, have assessed RAE ratings and conclude that applied subjects like health services may have got a "raw deal", while more traditional areas of medical research fared better.

Their results are of concern to the NHS, which has invested heavily in applied health services research.

Professors Thomas and Gabbay claim that if only English universities with medical schools are considered, the clinical medical units of assessment comes right at the bottom of a table of average RAE scores.

Professor Thomas said: "Our calculations show community-based clinical subjects come third from bottom within their universities, with hospital-based clinical subjects and clinical laboratory sciences in the bottom six."

He added: "If you look at the places which did score well, it's mainly the postgraduate schools in London, as well as Oxford and Cambridge."

Professor Gabbay said: "Much of the research looking at the effectiveness of healthcare practice is NHS funded and a lot of it is done in the provincial universities. But this appears to have been almost disregarded by HEFCE."

John Swales, head of research and development at the NHS, said: "I agree that community-based clinical subjects did particularly badly within this group."

He said the NHS would be meeting the HEFCEchief executive to discuss the RAE's implications for the partnership between the NHS and other funders of research, but added that applied health services research was a rapidly developing science, with NHS investment mostly made during the period of the RAE exercise. "This may have contributed to its relatively poor performance, compared with established fields," he said.

Rob Hull, secretary of HEFCE, said rating criteria had been applied by all RAE panels on the same basis. "I would not say medicine has done worse in comparison with other subjects."

He added that relative ratings between subjects did not affect funding: "As for the suggestion that the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge scooped all the money in terms of medicine, if you look at what is happening in terms of funding, more regional medical schools went up than down."

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