DECISIONS on whether to fund research into medical technologies may in the future be made by looking at the long-term cost implications of the possible different outcomes of the research.
The Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at Hertfordshire University has been given a Pounds 1,000 grant by the NHS executive to refine a new scheme for funding research into medical technologies. This could include research into new drugs, surgical techniques and ways of delivering medical services.
The team, working with researchers at Brunel University, is planning to refine a model in which research proposals are evaluated partly by the financial implications of their possible outcomes, so that money is given to research whose results are likely to offer value for money in health care and financial terms when put into practice.
The group's leader, Joy Townsend, said: "A large amount of money is spent on medical research. There is almost an infinite demand for different projects to be carried out. Increasingly there is a feeling of a need for prioritisation. Organisations are asked for large grants for extensive research projects, and the fund-givers are now looking for more systematic ways of allocating their major grants to make it more likely that the results lead to cost-effective changes in policy."
She said her scheme could be particularly useful when it came to evaluating large-scale research projects. "For larger projects, before funding is given, we could look at the different scenarios and what effect they may have on policy," said Professor Townsend.
This, she suggested, could be looked at in health gain and cost terms and should be compared with the policy implications of not doing the research at all.
She said: "This is not done at the moment. People look at the cost of the research project, but they don't look at the cost of what the outcomes would be. They don't look that far forward in a quantitative way."
The team has already looked at the long-term cost implications of the Medical Research Council's trial of hormone replacement therapy, comparing the cost of policy implications of varying scenarios with the cost of the research.