What does the health and social care bill say about research?

Posted on January 20, 2011 by

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The Health and Social Care Bill was published in the Commons yesterday. This will start putting in place legislative changes necessary to reorganise the NHS. These changes are going to have big implications for medical research, a lot of which is conducted within the NHS. So we are going to have to start unpicking the effect they are going to have and making a lot of noise to ensure research gets a good deal.

Background

The government published a white paper on Health in July. This proposed a reorganisation of the NHS. At the same time the government proposed changes to the regulation of medical research. They have consulted on these plans, refining their proposals, and are now publishing a bill to start putting the changes in place.

The Department of Health have a web page devoted to the changes to the NHS here

The Bill has been introduced into the House of Commons, so it will now go through legislative scrutiny in the Commons and then in the Lords.

The Parliament Bill page includes links to the text, a timeline etc.

There are some good general briefs on what the Bill says at the Kings Fund and the NHS Confederation.

What does this mean for research?

The NHS is involved in a lot of medical research. As one of the largest healthcare systems in the world, it offers a huge resource for medical research, for example, the wealth of information retained by the NHS in patients’ records is really important for epidemiological research, which contributes to the UK’s leadership in medical and health research.

The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) is an NHS initiative with a ring-fenced budget for health research. Its total budget for 2010/11 is £992 million.

Many medical research charities fund clinical research, either directly in NHS Trusts and primary care, or in University Medical Schools.

So changes to the NHS mean changes for research.

What does the Bill say about research?

July’s white paper contained a section focused on research.

Research

16 The Government is committed to the promotion and conduct of research as a core NHS role. Research is vital in providing the new knowledge needed to improve health outcomes and reduce inequalities. Research is even more important when resources are under pressure – it identifies new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. It is essential if we are to increase the quality and productivity of the NHS, and to support growth in the economy. A thriving life sciences industry is critical to the ability of the NHS to deliver world-class health outcomes. The Department will continue to promote the role of Biomedical Research Centres and Units, Academic Health Science Centres and Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, to develop research and to unlock synergies between research, education and patient care.

At first glance, the bill itself doesn’t address research directly in much detail beyond a mention in clause 13, which outlines the responsibilities of the new NHS Commissioning Board, giving the NHS Commissioning Board a responsibility for research (13 I) and a duty to promote innovation (13 H).

However the overall changes to the structure of the NHS which this Bill intends to put in place, changes to how it commissions and conducts services, will have big implications for research. So there are lots of questions we will need to explore as this Bill is debated to ensure it really can achieve these ambitions in a way that will work for research; we will need to unpick how the proposed new structures will operate and the implications of these for research:

  • will the new-look NHS be a friendlier place for research and promote innovation?
  • How can we ensure research isn’t lost in the mix?
  • How can GPs and patients by encouraged and supported to get involved in research that leads to better healthcare?

Check out Simon Denegri’s blog for more thoughts on what this means for research.

What next?

This  bill will now be scrutinised in detail in the Commons and Lords. I’m going to be watching closely to identify issues that I think need exploring, and try and support parliamentarians to do so, making the case for medical research and hopefully helping develop a system that will give research a good deal. The reorganisation of the NHS will not all take place in primary legislation, this is just part of the groundwork. so I’m also going to be following the process of policy-making and reorganisation throughout the NHS.

The proposed changes to the regulation of medical research are going to be dealt with elsewhere (See government announcement of this summarised in my previous post here) informed by the recommendations of the Academy’s review which published last week (more background here).

Posted in: Policy