Committee told merger of MRC and NHS is possibility

June 11, 2009

The Medical Research Council could be combined with the research arm of the National Health Service in a move that is likely to worry those involved with basic research.

The possibility of a merger was mooted in a select committee evidence session this week by Sir John Bell, chairman of the Office for the Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research. It could go ahead within the next decade.

The OSCHR was set up after the 2006 Cooksey review of health research funding as a new organisation to bring together the budget of the MRC and the research and development budget of the Department of Health. The aim was to achieve better progress in translating basic research into improvements in people's lives while retaining two separate organisations.

Sir John was asked by Phil Willis MP, chairman of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, if, in ten years, he envisaged having "one simple combined organisation" that spanned basic and NHS research. Sir John replied: "I expect it is very likely that the OSCHR will disappear."

Such a move is likely to worry basic researchers, many of whom fear that a greater emphasis on the translation of research will divert resources from their work.

The MRC this week also launched a new strategic plan for research. The plan for 2009-14 includes new priority areas to be funded with savings of about £23 million from its 2010-11 budget.

The savings represent the MRC's contribution to a requirement for research councils to save £106 million to put towards areas of economic importance. Most were being made from managed programmes that had not received "sufficiently high-quality applications", the MRC said.

The new strategic plan sets out eight research priorities, with titles ranging from "tissue disease and degeneration" to "environment and health".

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