In the aftermath of the waves of coverage, comment and commotion that followed the end of the listening exercise on NHS reform and the government’s swift response, there was one piece of good news that went somewhat unnoticed; a positive, if tentative step forward in the field of medical research.
The original draft of the Health and Social Care Bill had a worrying gap when it came to this area, with little mention or reference to the impact of the reforms on a sector that produces an array of positive contributions to our society. Patients obviously benefit, daily in some cases, from the medical innovations that are produced from the labours of clinical academics and their consultant colleagues in the NHS. Just as importantly are the financial dividends that new research delivers to the UK economy and the Treasury – which runs into billions each year.
The Bill’s original cold shoulder to research was frankly unacceptable to the BMA’s Medical Academic Staff Committee (MASC), who began pressing for a response from the off. This we got last week – to an extent. The government now explicitly recognises the importance of a continued major role for research, and, more importantly, obliges clinical commissioning groups and the NHS Commissioning Board to take it into account when making their decisions.
So far, so good, but unfortunately that gap has not been completely filled. While the commissioner side have clear continuing responsibilities, it is less clear what the requirements are for providers when it comes to clinical research, especially how they are supposed to support and maintain existing research facilities.
There is also a worrying vagueness when it comes to who supports staff costs in the NHS arising from research work.
These are issues that need to be clarified as the government embarks on the redrafting of the Bill. The BMA will be keeping a very close eye on these developments, pushing ministers to make sure that we don’t end up with a solution that is well intentioned but incomplete. We will also be making it clear that it is important we retain and build on the workforce we have – as MASC Co-Chair Michael Rees told the recent COMAR conference – so that we have the right backbone with which to fulfil our national potential in the field of research.