The BMA today (Thursday 10 August, 2006) questions the government over a possible £300 million drop in the funding available for health research which, it warns, is already under pressure on several different fronts.
Under HM Treasury plans, a new single fund of at least £1 billion would be created for health research, which is currently funded jointly by the Medical Research Council and the NHS Research and Development programme. The combined value of the MRC and NHS research budgets in 2007-8 is expected to be £1.3 billion.
The BMA welcomes the fact that research funding is being reviewed, but is concerned about the apparent £300 million drop.
Professor Michael Rees, chairman of the BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee, says:
"We are seeking urgent clarification about this apparent drop in funding. Health research is vital to patient care and the development of new treatments, as well as providing economic benefits. In no way should it be diminished - especially not by £300 million."
In its response, published today (Thursday 10 August, 2006), to the Cooksey Review of UK Health Research, the BMA says research in the NHS is already under pressure on several fronts, including:
Cash-strapped NHS trusts being tempted to raid research budgets
Increasing numbers of NHS providers making coherent research more difficult
Financial disincentives discouraging junior doctors from undertaking research
Junior doctors in specialties that do not attract major research funding dropping out of academic careers
Medical schools facing underinvestment
Numbers of medical academic staff falling
Small-scale but valuable NHS research losing out because of increasing emphasis on larger projects
The BMA response expresses fears that the funding merger could result in less direct clinical research - where benefits to patients are realised earlier than for more theoretical research. It points out that such research - in areas like disease prevention and screening - has received relatively little funding from the MRC.
Professor Rees says "It would be disastrous if the merger led to a reduction in investment in applied research."
The BMA welcomes the Cooksey Review and calls for:
Increased investment to support training in academic medicine
Substantial amounts of the research budget to be earmarked specifically for applied clinical research
The peer review element of funding grants to continue so that political interference in research is minimised
Professor Rees says: "If the new funding system provides the right level of support for academic trainees, that would be a very wise investment. Health research should include investment in training people, not just in infrastructure. As far as possible, research should be free from political interference."