Health academics fear NHSU will grab slice of research pie

June 13, 2003

Fears are growing in the medical academic community about possible plans to hand over part of the Department of Health's research budget to the new NHS University, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Bob Fryer, the chief executive of the NHSU, confirmed at a conference last week that the department is considering whether to transfer an undisclosed proportion of its £540 million research budget to the NHSU.

He told The THES : "I can't say anything more on this as it is under discussion. This is being discussed with Sir John Pattison (head of research at the DoH)."

The practicalities of such a move have yet to be revealed. But Professor Fryer has suggested that there may have to be a special research board to manage the new budget, particularly bearing in mind that the NHSU itself will want to benefit from the money.

A number of universities fear that this will represent a serious conflict of interests.

Mike Spyer, the dean of the Royal Free and University College London Medical School, said: "Most of us in the medical schools are really very concerned about this. It is a strange situation to have a university that is both a commissioner of research activity as well as a provider."

Ian Gibson, chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, said his committee was on standby to investigate what was happening.

The committee, which is scrutinising science spending in all government departments, is worried that the DoH may have been caught with no extra money with which to finance the vision of the NHSU properly. Dr Gibson suspects that existing research programmes may have to be dropped to support the new university's research objectives.

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