Health on frontline

March 14, 1997

AS THE the slightly scorched author of a first-time submission to the research assessment exercise in a new and developing applied research area, I have followed the post mortem with interest.

There is a tension between the objective of high RAE ratings and the applied and professional focus of some areas. In general, high RAE ratings appear to be awarded for work on fundamental theoretical issues and not for investigation of matters of concern to professional practice.

For example, health service research directors are concerned about the poor scores for community-based clinical medicine. The plight of nursing is obvious at the bottom of the full RAE tables with only 14 of the 36 departments scoring above grade 2. Other studies and professions allied to medicine (PAMs) are in a less obvious and more difficult position in unit 11.

Only 8.8 per cent of submissions to unit 11 scored grade 5 or 5-star and there are no accurate figures on the range of grades scored by the PAMs themselves. The best estimate is that they form the mass of the 35 per cent of submissions in grade 2 and that the 12 per cent of 4, 5s and 5-star submissions belong to biomedical science, bioengineering, and the other studies which have the sort of research history we aspire to.

Unit 11 illustrates HEFCE's statement that rating criteria had been applied on the same basis by all panels. It also supports THES comments that applied health services needed special attention as they were developing areas. Unit 11 denies a basic tenet of the RAE, peer review at subject level.

I have been concerned that the RAE and HEFCE funding formula will fossilise research and research capacity in the PAMs. I wish NHS research and development chief John Swales well in his discussions with the HEFCE chief executive and I hope that he will not forget that all heath-care professions are involved in the drive towards evidence-based practice that underpins the NHS R&D strategy and that NHS providers have partnerships with the new universities as well as the medical schools in old universities.

Anne Parry

Reader in physiotherapy Sheffield Hallam University

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