The Health Research Authority in the Queen’s speech

Posted on May 9, 2012 by


In the Queen’s speech today the Government announced that it will be bringing forward draft legislation on the establishment of the Health Research Authority (HRA) as a non-departmental public body. This is great news that has been promised by the Department of Health and will give parliamentarians and everyone else time to scrutinise the plans before the full bill is prepared, probably in time for the next Queen’s speech. There have also been a few other welcome bits for the science community and charities.


The idea of a single regulator for medical and health research was put forward in an Academy of Medical Sciences report in January 2011 to streamline regulation, making the process more straightforward and easier to navigate.

In the Plan for Growth, published alongside the 2011 budget in March, the Government committed to establishing a Health Research Authority and they did so in December, making it a special health authority. This was a temporary arrangement intended to give the government more time to develop the body and allow Parliament proper scrutiny of the plans. It was announced that it would take on the functions of the Integrated Research Administration System (IRAS), the National Research Ethics Service (NRES).

Shortly after the HRA was established the Lords held a debate to discuss the Government’s plans to take the Authority forward. The health minister Earl Howe said there would be a consultation shortly on the movement of HFEA and HTA functions into the new Authority (as envisaged by the Academy of Medical Sciences). He also confirmed that the government see NIHR rather than the HRA as the body best placed to streamline the process of getting multiple NHS research & development approvals before a project can get off the ground – a current source of considerable delays. Peers expressed their concern that the body might not have enough powers to make the difference that is needed and feared that using separate legislation to fully establish the HRA (rather than include it in the Health and Social Care Bill) risked unnecessary delays.

What’s been announced in today’s speech

The Queen’s speech sets out the Government’s plans for legislation they are going to bring forward in the coming parliamentary term.

The speech announced that there will be a draft bill to modernise adult care and support in England and this will include establishing the Health Research Authority and Health Education England as non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). As an NDPB, the HRA will have the independence that the medical research community has called for and will have authority over the whole UK (being a special health authority restricts it to England).

The Queen also said that there will be legislation to protect free speech and reform the law of defamation. This is the result of a long running campaign by Sense About Science, English PEN and Index On Censorship to reform the libel laws to redress what many see as unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech that restricts the exchange of ideas and information.

Good news for charities is promised in a bill to reduce burdens on charities, enabling them to claim additional payments on small donations. According to the BBC this will provide a new system of top-up payments similar to Gift Aid for small cash donations to charities. For donations of less than £20, charities will be able to claim back 25p for every £1 collected in the UK, up to a limit of £5,000.

What next?

A Joint Committee of MPs and Peers will be set up to scrutinise the draft legislation when it’s published. A report will be produced and the Government will take this into consideration when writing the full bill. The bill will then go through the normal parliamentary procedure with debates and further scrutiny in both Houses.

There will be seperate consultations on the futures of the HFEA and HTA, as promised by Earl Howe. We won’t know whether the functions of these bodies – or what others – will be included in the draft legislation until it’s published.

AMRC chief executive Sharmila Nebhrajani has welcomed today’s announcement:

Independent, balanced and effective regulation is crucial for medical research and patient care. We welcome the announcement in the Queen’s speech that draft legislation will be introduced to establish the Health Research Authority as a non-departmental public body and look forward to working with the Government as we progress together towards a better regulatory framework that works for everyone.

It’s great to see the HRA progressing and AMRC will continue to work with its members and the Government to help ensure the authority works for researchers and patients.

Posted in: Policy