A huge tome literally fell into my lap this morning. So heavy was the 151 page brochure from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that it broke through the botton of the envelope in which it was sent.
Coincidentally as I began to flick through its glossy pages this morning, the Office for Life Sciences in London was announcing a blueprint for life sciences which heralded among other things a new initiative to improve international awareness of the UK’s strengths in research. It would seem everyone is competing to position themselves as the country ‘changing the world’ to paraphrase Australia’s strapline. I hope our postal service can cope.
Later this afternoon I will be attending a reception of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research to celebrate the very best of medical research in the UK. Over 60 of AMRC’s now 119 member charities (yes, welcome to the Pharmacy Practice Research Trust and British Orthopaedic Association who joined last week) will be attending – a small but clear sign of the contribution of the charity sector to research in this country. So I rather gloated on this fact – in that little Englander way we can be prone to – as I read the first 30 pages of NHMRC’s booklet. After all, there wasn’t a mention of charities or NGOs. Lots of glossy adverts by charities but no mention in the text.
Then I turned to the OLS blueprint and I wasn’t gloating so much any more. Don’t get me wrong. It is a good plan with some excellent interventions proposed that will advance research and, more imp0rtantly, benefit patients. Some of those ideas – particularly around NICE – have been actively promoted by our members.
But, as ever, frustratingly, if you weren’t one of the architects of this plan to date the only nod to the rest of the community came towards the end of the document with the inevitable reference to ‘…and partners.’ And somewhere else ‘..and charities.’ The same sort of words were of course used in OSCHR’s first progress report over six months ago and even they would admit they haven’t done well in consulting and communicating with our sector. Indeed, the more the phrase is used and the less demonstrable evidence there is that it is ever followed up upon, the less credible it becomes.
The same thought occurred to me last week when the Department of Health issued its letter to NHS Trusts drawing their attention to their responsibilities for promoting innovation and research. If only they had involved the wider community or even just alerted it to when it had gone out, we might have been able to put out some reinforcing and encouraging messages. What is it that they say, you need to receive a message seven times at least before you remember it?
I do worry that the collaborative spirit that seems every more vibrant at local and organisational level isn’t quite reflected at the very top of the tree, that the partnership is not as well oiled as people would have us believe. It is a shame and, more significantly, a missed opportunity. Because I thiink that one of the things that marks out the UK from many other countries when it comes to research – and one of the things we should be bottling and selling – is the degree of cohesion and partnership that does exist in doing the work, work in involving academica, industry…and charities.
So, over the next few months, we will be responding to the OLS blueprint and making sure that we are the beginning of the sentence that currently ends ‘…and charities.’