Sums and summitry

Yesterday 30 top scientists called for a tripling of Government expenditure on research into dementia – you may have heard some of them being interviewed on news programmes during the day. 

Their call was timed to coincide with a day-long summit organised by the Department of Health and Medical Research Council (MRC) which brought together patients, carers, scientists and policy makers to think about a strategy for dementia research.  If the art of summitry is about bringing different perspective together and agreeing a way forward, then they had all the right people there to do it.  Indeed, the Minister Phil Hope MP, said as much in his address.

The debate around funding continued during the morning and I often get asked why charities lead such calls for more money when they know that Government does not have a bottomless pot to dip into.  It’s a good question and the answer is pretty straightforward. 

First, for all charities there is a primeval impulse to fight as hard as possible for their cause and for more funds and they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t.  Second, unfair though it may seem at times, those that shout loudest and clearest are the ones that will get noticed more readily.  And third medical research charities know – based on many years of supporting the work of scientists – that more funding is crucial if one is to sustain the progress of previous years and explore new avenues.  Research is not something you can switch on or off like a lightswitch. 

Nonetheless, just before I left the summit I was pleased to hear the debate move on to issues such as collaboration, areas where the participants could join forces, work that they should consider stop doing, and interventions where funding could be focused in the future.  For as much as the debate is about money, it must also be about ‘how’ and ‘why’ and the ‘quality’ of what is being done.  I  know that my members are acutely aware of this when  they review their research strategy and plans for the future.  Is what we have funded of the highest quality and how do we ensure that this is always uppermost in our minds and of those with whom we work?

I came away wondering whether the ‘research summit’ was going to be the new art form for taking forward such debates in other areas.  It would be no bad thing, and it’s got to be better than more workshops surely? 

But successful summits also need good leaders.  And yesterday I felt they had it in a former carer, Barbara, who opened the conference with a passionate but commonsensical talk about what it was like to live with dementia and some of things that would have made her life easier.  

I am not sure all the participants yesterday listened hard enought to what she had to say first time around so I only hope Barbara had the last word yesterday. 

We’ll see when the report comes out.

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