Research in the health bill – what next?

Posted on July 14, 2011 by


As a Commons public bill committee scrutinises the revised Health & Social Care Bill, we have written to them to emphasise why the government’s proposed changes aiming to support health research are so important and what we’re still concerned about.


Following the listening exercise, the government made some research-friendly changes to the Health & Social Care Bill.

They committed to:

  • include a new duty for the Secretary of State to promote research;
  • create a new duty for clinical commissioning groups to promote research and innovation and the use of research evidence, in line with the current duty on the NHS Commissioning Board;
  • ensure that a culture of research and innovation is embedded in the arrangements for both the Board and Public Health England;
  • make sure that clinical commissioning groups and the NHS Commissioning Board ensure that treatment costs for patients who are taking part in research funded by Government and Research Charity partner organisations are funded through normal arrangements for commissioning patient care, as set out in existing guidance.
  • establish Public Health England as an executive agency of the Department of Health, ensuring that expert and scientific advice is independent, while at the same time integrating policy and action to allow a more joined-up approach to health protection and emergency planning.
  • include a new duty for the Secretary of State to maintain a system for professional education and training.

Because it had been changed considerably, the bill went back into committee stage so MPs could scrutinise it clause by clause. The committee welcomes individuals and organisations sending written evidence to help them scrutinise the bill.

What did we say?

We were really pleased to see the government commit to making some of the changes we called for to support health research. But there are still areas we are concerned about.

  • The commitments so far do not give much detail, we’re keen to find out how the government will deliver them. For example, there is a new duty on the Secretary of State and the new clinical commissioning groups to promote research and innovation – but what will it actually require them to do? And how will individuals and bodies across the NHS be supported to deliver these commitments. Obviously, a lot of this will be unravelled over time as the new system is developed but we can feed into this to help build a system that works for everybody..
  • mitigating the impact of localisation on research – with local clinical commissioning groups having greater responsibilities for research and local authorities having new, bigger public health responsibilities – they need support to help them do this effectively.
  • enable the safe and secure use of patient data for research – the information contained in NHS patients’ records is a massive resource for research into health. The government has undertaken to develop a system that protects patient confidentiality and promotes high quality research and we want to get this right.
  • establish streamlined and robust regulation and governance – separate to the health bill are plans to establish a single regulator of health research in the UK – the Health Research Regulatory Agency (HRRA) – initially as a special health authority with the National Research Ethics Service as its core. The authority will be established as a non-departmental public body in primary legislation through a further Health & Social Care Bill planned for the next parliamentary session. There is discussion over whether it would be possible to amend the current Health & Social Care Bill to establish this body in this session. Our priority is for this new regulator to get up and running and improving the regulatory system in the UK as soon as possible.
  • integrate meaningful patient and public involvement in research – there’s lots of talk about involving patients and the public in decisions about their care – where and how they get it – but there is less focus on involving them in research – helping make decisions over what research the NHS should do and potentially giving them opportunities to trial new medicines and treatments themselves. Opportunities for this sort of involvement need to be built into the system too.
  • Develop the health research workforce – if the NHS is going to do health research, it’s got to be full of people who can and want to do research. The government has committed to improve the system for education, training and professional development in the NHS and we’re anxious that the new system will enable and support everyone in the NHS – consultants, academics, nurses, midwives, therapists – to get involved in research so we can do it better.
  • Innovation in the NHS – and if we’re going to build an NHS that’s brilliant at research,  we need to get better at taking up the new innovations this research throws up – making them into therapies and products to treat patients. The NHS chief executive,  Sir Ian Carruthers, has just launched a review of Innovation in the NHS to explore how the NHS can get better at adopting innovations. He is taking evidence until 31 August and he’s aiming to report in November 2011. We’re going to feed into this review too.

What next?

The bill is just finishing committee stage in the Commons. It will then come back in front of the whole house to be debated at report stage and third reading before heading over to the Lords… so plenty more opportunities for us to raise these issues.


Posted in: Policy