Critic says NHS gains more from 'slick' new universities

July 25, 2003

The "pedestrian pace" of academic research in many old universities makes it useless for the National Health Service, a senior paediatrician said last week.

Sir David Hall, co-chair of the external working group for the National Service Framework for Children, said new universities were more responsive to NHS needs and posed a serious challenge to old universities. He called for more "slick and responsive" research.

In a debate on children's services at Anglia Polytechnic University, Sir David, who is professor of community paediatrics at Sheffield University, said that research often involved "three months to talk to your colleagues about it, six months to write the grant application, three months to referee comments, six months to write the contract, and maybe 18 months later you start work".

He went on: 'You do a three-year programme and get it written up 18 months later - that is just no use."

Sir David, whose term as president of the Royal College of Paediatrics has just ended, is on secondment to the NHS University to lead its child health programme development.

He floated the idea of a "virtual faculty" of interested researchers, or departments, linked by the NHSU. He said the NHSU could provide core support facilities to this network, such as a central source of population statistics.

The research role of the NHSU is under discussion with the Department of Health. Many academics are concerned that a conflict of interest could arise if the NHSU both commissioned and conducted research.

Sir David said: "The NHSU needs to remain at arm's length from the DoH. It certainly should conduct research commissioned by the DoH and bodies such as NHS trusts."

The APU debate on the National Service Framework for Children was held to mark the second anniversary of the founding of the university's Centre for Research in Health and Social Care.

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