Government reaffirms central role of NHS in medical research

Medical researchers have welcomed the increased emphasis on research following the government’s rethink on its proposed reorganisation of the NHS.

June 14, 2011

Campaigners had expressed concern that the reforms proposed in the health and social care bill, which would see responsibility for NHS commissioning in England transferred to groups of GPs, could undermine the health service’s role in medical research.

But following a report by the independent NHS Futures Forum, published today, the government has announced that it will impose a duty on both the health secretary and the commissioning boards to promote research.

The latter will also have a duty to promote the use of research evidence.

Sir John Bell, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, described the moves as “a hugely significant step”.

“These measures will ensure a duty to support research at all levels of the NHS and provide a clear sign that the government has listened to the concerns of the medical science community,” he said

The government has also committed to ensuring that a “culture of research and innovation” is embedded in both the new NHS Commissioning Board, which will oversee health commissioning at the national level, and Public Health England, which will oversee national public health projects such as vaccination.

Sir John welcomed the decision to establish the latter as an executive agency, ensuring that its advice to government would be independent and providing “an important home for public health scientists”.

But he warned that embedding research in the NHS “must be accompanied by a workforce that values research and innovation”, and he echoed calls from the NHS Futures Forum to review proposals around education and training for health workers.

Lord Willis, chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities and former chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said the decision “to effectively place a duty on all working in the NHS to promote research” was “a most welcome step forward”.

But Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, warned that “the devil will be in the detail of what commissioners are actually prepared to fund”.

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