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Two down, one to go. Here’s science related ‘matter’ at the Conservative Party Conference which starts in Birmingham tomorrow.
Birmingham University was of course the venue for the Science Minister, David Willett’s, first speech after taking office. I am looking forward to being one of the hosts when he joins us for a roundtable breakfast on Wednesday. I have been speculating whether he eats ‘clusters’ for breakfast or plain old corn flakes person.
In terms of the formal conference agenda items of interest include debates on ‘Big Society and People Power’ (cue a reminder to sign the Science is Vital peititon which has over 10,000 signatures now including support from the Wellcome Trust) on Sunday afternoon, ‘The Economy’ on Monday morning before lunch, debates on publci services and welfare onTuesday and the Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, speaks on Wednesday afternoon. You can see the agenda here.
My pick on the fringe….I shall be chairing the ‘Innovation as a cure’ meeting organised by Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Anthony Nolan and ABHI on Sunday evening at 5.45 or there is the Breakthrough Breast Cancer tea party starting at 5.30pm if you prefer, and another of our charities, Ovarian Cancer Action is looking at women’s health at 9.30. The latter features Sarah Wollaston MP who is on the Health Select Committee and a GP.
You can kick off your Monday at 8am with Birmingham Science City which has a fringe entitled ‘Innovation and the Green Revolution.’ A bit later at 12.30pm why not decompress after George Osborne MP’s speech to conference by going to the British Chambers of Commerce debate. I only mention it because the Financial Secretary, Stephen Timms MP, and Shadow Business Minister, Will-Butler-Adams MP, will be speaking. Surely after hearing from this trio we might be able piece together a narrative for economic growth?
But I am sure most of you would prefer to hear David Willetts speak at the NESTA fringe which is taking place at the same time (12.30pm) on the subject of ‘Made in Britain: Building a 21st century economy.’ Either that or hearing Earl Howe, the Department of Health Minister responsible for medical and health research, speak at the ‘Research to the rescue’ fringe at 12.45pm hosted by BHF, Diabetes UK and the Stroke Association.
The Guardian’s engaging Michael White chairs the Health Hotel debate on Monday evening (19.30) and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley MP is speaking at the Health Hotel reception afterwards (which is invitation only sadly, what happened to the days when you could walk in to these things).
The 1994 Group and others hold a lunchtime debate on the future of higher education at 12.30pm on Tuesday and so are Reform with Universities UK at 1.00pm with David Willetts MP invited. This one is called ‘Building the Future: Higher education and economic growth.’ [nb: one of the perils of conferences is the fact that many similarly-themed fringe meetings clash but I find you can run from one to the other if you are quick on your feet).
Also of interest on Tuesday lunchtime is the Asthma UK, Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd and Smith Institute fringe: ‘Can Health Cuts Be Good For You?’ Andrew Lansley is down to speak at this one which starts at 1.00pm.
The Royal Society takes its ‘Scientific Century’ debate to conference on Tuesday evening at 7.30pm with David Willetts MP, Paul Wellings (Chair of the 1994 Group) and Brian Cox. The Chemical Industries Association pop up this week with their own event at 7.45pm looking at ‘Science Education: The next deficit’ which looks more like a reception but I might be wrong.
And that’s it….a much busier conference than the other two as you might expect. I look forward to seeing you there.
It has been a busy 24 hours in medical research.
Beginning with the sunnier side of things, I am sure few of you will have esacaped the wall-to-wall coverage of the study published yesterday showing Vitamin D exerts an influence over certain genes associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and arthritis. The research is notable for its international collaborative nature involving a range of funders including the Wellcome Trust, MS Society and Action Medical Research from the charity sector alone. Now, if only they could do something about the weather.
But the coverage for this paled in comparison to that which greeted the decision of US federal court judge, Judge Royce Lamberth, blocking federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research over there. The Washington Post and others are reporting today that President Obama is likely to appeal. The Post also had something on its wires this morning saying that the Senate Health Committee is going to hold hearings over the next few weeks. Its Democrat Chair, Tom Harkin, has come out very strongly against the judge’s decision. And so, in one fell swoop the issue has become very, very political. I notice that in USA Today and other publications, those supporting the judge’s decision are pushing for Congress to make the ultimate decision. And no wonder, with the Democrats likely to lose out in forthcoming elections.
Moving on…there was an excellent piece on BBC Newsnight yesterday picking up on the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s (an AMRC member) State of the Nation report saying that the move to GP commissioning under the NHS White Paper reforms will be disastrous particularly for those with complex and highly specialised needs. Jane Field, mother of 12-year old Daniel, talked calmly (and in statements all the more powerful because of their reasoned tone) about the current problems with misdiagnosis and getting specialist help.
I am prone to policy hypochondria at the best of times. But, in talking with our members, my instinctive sense has now hardened into a firm view that the White Paper does not pay enough attention to, nor incentivise strongly enough, medical research. GPs are just not research-minded to put it midly as will be shown by the results of focus group work we have done withGPs and patients and which I hope to post before not too long.
But back to Newsnight… I was particularly struck by the GP on Newsnight yesterday who said there will be winners and losers in the new system. And there was me thinking that I went to my doctor to be treated fairly not to enter a lottery.
Talking of lotteries, yesterday also saw the bowel cancer charities come out in force to express their dismay that NICE had decided not to approve the treatment, bevacizumab – a decision which it has opened to public consultation. I always feel a heretic when I say that the world is far better with NICE than it was before, but then I can recall the days in the early nineties when we had no real transparent decision-making process for evaluating medicines or in determining if and how they were available. Nonetheless, the mismatch between such decisions on the grounds of cost versus patient need and experience are hard to bear.
I continue to feel that there is much work to still to be done to ensure ever-better tools are being used (such as patient reported outcome measures (PROM) to measure the patient experience and ensure they are part of the decision-making process but also to think holistically about the wider costs saved to society by access to treatments. This is an issue that continues to hover for members of AMRC and I suspect it will gain further momentum as NICE assumed a greater role in the new NHS set-up for defining quality outcomes and influencing the research agenda. We pay too little attention to perhaps the biggest translation gap in producing medicines – both how it gets taken-up by the NHS and then the degree to which patients will not adhere to their medicines rgeime. I am looking forward to discussing these points when I meet with the head of NICE, Mike Rawlins, in September.
And finally, some of you may be interested in William Cullerne Bowne’s recent post flagging up Vince Cable’s first speech on science which will take place on 8th September…
Not because he has taken over as PM I hasten to add but because he will be popping over there to do an online Q&A tomorrow, Thursday 22nd Juy, about the Health White Paper. Details on the No10 website here.
I am seriously considering entering the transfer market to buy a psychic octopus that can help me predict the implications of the unfolding Coalition Government strategy.
Yesterday saw publication of the much-trailed Health White Paper which I overhead described on yesterday’s edition of ‘The World Tonight’ as the most radical overhaul of the health services since its creation. But is it good for medical and health research?
First, the easy bit, the specific pledges and statements on research in the White Paper text with my take as follows: