Interesting announcements for health research in George Osborne’s statement today

Posted on November 29, 2011 by


George Osborne made his autumn statement today. This included an extra £200 million investment in science, some new measures to support small and medium sized enterprises and an update of the plan for growth – both reporting on what the government have achieved so far and setting out some new objectives. He also confirmed that David Cameron will be making a speech setting out more government actions to support life sciences and translational research next month (we expect this early in December) and that the government’s planned Innovation and Research Strategy will be out soon.


The autumn statement is one of two official statements the chancellor makes to parliament each year – the other is the budget. The 2011 budget was back in March and included the plan for growth which was published alongside it. This identified six growth areas – one of which was healthcare and life sciences – and outlined steps the government planned to take to support them.

The Office for Life Sciences has also been gathering evidence over the past few months from across the research community about how to better support and grow life sciences in the UK.

And in the white paper on higher education, the government stated that it was planning to publish an Innovation and research strategy.

What has happened today?

The really interesting bit of the autumn statement for us scientists is on page 40:

1.123 The Government will publish its Innovation and Research Strategy shortly to set out how it will support innovation in the UK.The Government is today announcing that it will:
•• invest an additional £75 million in supporting technology-based SMEs to develop, demonstrate and commercialise new products and services;
•• invest an additional £200 million in science, including an £80 million investment in the Institute for Animal Health and £25 million for large-scale technology demonstrators; and
•• introduce an ‘above the line’ tax credit in 2013 to encourage research and
development (R&D) activity by larger companies. The Government will consult
on the detail at Budget 2012 and will ensure that SME R&D incentives are not
reduced as a result of this change. This builds on measures at Budget 2011 to increase the generosity and accessibility of R&D tax credits for SMEs.

This extra £200 million for science was welcomed by the Campaign for Science and Engineering who also have a breakdown of where this money will be invested. This includes £62 million for research council capital investment which will be welcome as there is concern over the impact of cuts to their capital funding over the spending review period – see this CaSE analysis. The support for SMEs (small or medium enterprises) and tax credits for those doing research and development will be welcomed by industry investing in health research in the UK.

1.124 In December 2011 the Prime Minister will set out the Government’s strategy to ensure that the UK is the best location for undertaking translational research in life sciences. The strategy will outline how the Government will support the life sciences work of universities, the NHS, private investors and businesses, to attract and develop talent, and improve incentives.

The Office for Life Sciences works across the Department for Business and Innovation and the Department of Health to drive activity in life sciences. It has been gathering evidence over the past few months, looking at what actions the life sciences sector in the UK needs now to help it develop further, particularly how we can get better at translating the science we are doing into treatments for patients. Charities play a big role in the life sciences sector, collaborating with industry and other public funders and investing over £1 billion annually in medical research, so this new strategy is going to be interesting. We’re expecting David Cameron’s speech, outlining lots of new initiatives, early in December.

1.125 Making more public sector information available will help catalyse new markets and innovative products and services as well as improving standards and transparency in public services. The Government will open up access to core public datasets on transport, weather and health, including giving individuals access to their online GP records by the end of this Parliament. The Government will provide up to £10 million over five years to establish an Open Data Institute to help industry exploit the opportunities created through release of this data.

This is really interesting for health research. The data that the NHS collects in everybody’s patient records is a really powerful tool for health research (see this fab leaflet which explains why and how this data is used). What we need to crack now is a system that is safe and secure for both patients and researchers and opens up all this data, allowing it to be used for research.

The department of health recently announced their plans to establish something called the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink – effectively a secure data service which will link up datasets from GP and hospital care so that it will be possible for researchers to access data about a patients entire journey through the care system  – this is actually delivering on one of the commitments in plan for growth number one:

4) The Government will build a consensus on using e-health record data to create a unique position for the UK in health research.

This announcement was made dependent on securing funding for the business case. In the autumn statement today, the government confirm their planned investment in this and also that they plan to have it up and running by September 2012

A.137 Linking primary and secondary healthcare datasets – The Government will provide a service to link primary and secondary healthcare datasets from September 2012 to reinforce the UK’s position as a global centre for research and analytics and boost UK life sciences.

The Department of Health have welcomed this – Newly available health data will support medical research and patient empowerment.

Other interesting stuff – growth plan phase two

Alongside the autumn statement, George Osborne has published an implementation update showing where action on all the steps outlined in the Plan for Growth published back in March have got to so far  (the interesting bit for us is on pages 14-18) and kicking off phase two of the growth review – a series of further reforms that the government is planning to support growth in the UK. There is a page on the BIS website with all the details about progress on the original growth plan and phase two.

Phase two includes:

  • Infrastructure – considering how to eliminate barriers and encourage greater investment in UK infrastructure;
  • Education and skills – looking across the whole of the education system from schools, FE colleges, universities and other training providers to consider how to maximise economic growth;
  • Logistics – covering rail, road, shipping and air freight interests and cutting across the wholesale industry, looking at opportunities and barriers to growth as the logistics sector evolves in response to the increasing complexity and globalisation of supply chains;
  • Mid-sized businesses – examining businesses that have expanded beyond the definition of SMEs, considering how to increase the number of firms that show significant growth at this level;
  • Rural economy – scrutinizing the constraints, opportunities and risks impacting on economic growth in rural areas, and considering specific issues including labour market characteristics, to support the Government’s commitment to rebalancing the economy;
  • Open data – investigating the potential growth benefits and risks of opening up access to public sector data assets.

This echoes some of the announcements made in the autumn statement – particularly activity in improving access to data.

What next?

Activity on the commitments in the growth plan – establishing the health research authority to streamline regulation of health research etc – is ongoing. Where they are up to so far and some of the next steps we can expect are outlined in the implementation update. And the government will be driving forward this new work outlined today.

We’re expecting David Cameron to make his speech announcing new measures to support life sciences and encourage more translational research in the UK in the next week or so. Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS has also been busy reviewing innovation in the NHS and his report on how the take up and spread of innovations across the NHS can be accelerated will be published alongside this.

And there’s also the Innovation & Research Strategy expected soon.

Posted in: Policy, Research