Experts fear for public health as cutbacks bite

June 22, 2001

Government scientists have warned of more public health crises on the scale of BSE or worse as a result of under-investment in research.

The Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists has called for a minimum 10 per cent increase in core science funding to prevent further public health catastrophes.

In a report based on the views and experiences of more than 5,000 members working in agriculture, health and food research in key government departments, the union warns that the government's ability to respond to threats to public health is damaged by poor funding.

The report is a response to the Phillips Inquiry into BSE. It singles out the potentially dire effect of an influx of exotic parasitic diseases - some transmissible to humans - following the relaxation of quarantine laws.

Because of cuts at the Central Veterinary Laboratory and the closure of its parasitology department "there will be hardly any British expertise in veterinary parasitology," the report says.

It warns that cuts at the Department of Health's Public Health Group have hit expertise available on the safety of drinking water, air pollution and chemical safety.

The IPMS, whose 75,000 members include scientists at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and public science laboratories, said there had been a major slump in public science funding in recent years.

Government expenditure on civil research and development budgets for science, engineering and technology declined by 29 per cent between 1986 and 1999, from £1,746 million to £1,246 million, says the report.

Research and development staff numbers fell by 24 per cent in the same period.

Funding cuts have led to the closure of research institutes such as the Long Ashton meat research station and the Edinburgh neuropathogenisis unit, both of which could have been crucial in combating BSE, the report says.

Valerie Ellis, IPMS assistant general secretary, said: "More funding must be provided for public interest research if we are not to be plagued by continuing crises."

The IPMS identifies the commercialisation of research and the privatisation of government science laboratories as a threat.

"IPMS is very concerned that scientific advice should be independent and seen to be so," the report says.

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