I was pleased to read your speech at the Royal College of Pathologists earlier this week setting out your vision for the NHS and your five priorities for a Department of Public Health were you to form the next Government.
Many us will be pleased to see you and your front bench colleagues in the Shadow Health team putting greater detail on the plans you would hope to take forward in moving us further and faster towards a truly patient-led NHS.
However, it concerns me – as it will the 120 medical research charities that make up AMRC – that your speech included no reference to the importance of medical and health research in driving ongoing improvement in the quality of care and treatment that patients and their families can expect from the NHS in the future. Surely, a commitment to delivering research of the highest quality is a marker of any world-class health system. It is conspicuous by its absence from your speech.
In recent years we have seen significant investment in clinical research through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), increasing collaboration between research funders and others to deliver clinical trials and studies more efficiently, improvements in infrastructure, and a strong public acknowledgement of research as being a core part of what the NHS does in the NHS Constitution. We have also seen greater patient involvement in the conduct of that research which should give any new Government increasing confidence that this agenda is patient-focused.
Imperfections remain and there is considerable room for improvement, not least with respect to the regulatory environment and excessive bureaucracy. But this is not the time to take the foot of the pedal. Indeed, if we wish the UK to be at the forefront of developing medicines and interventions and to seeing these successfully adopted within the NHS, a future Government will need make a sustained policy-commitment to health research with associated funding for many years. Equally it must address the perennial failure of the NHS to adopt these new therapies, ideas and innovations smartly and efficiently.
For those patients and their families battling life-threatening conditions or suffering from chronic conditions a defining feature of whether the NHS is patient-led or not will be its ability to offer them the opportunity to access new methods of care and treatment. That is why I was somewhat surprised that your speech did not address either the role of research in the NHS or the ways in which your Government would ensure that the service is focused on innovation.