What defines medical research charities?

It normally grates on me when someone makes passing reference to football or their favourite team in search of the common touch.  So forgive me for doing the same just this once.  It does serve a purpose…..of sorts.

I am sure that those familiar with football punditry – and even those who are not – will have heard experts refer admiringly to a player having ‘pace, power, aggression and two good feet.’  They are seen as the defining qualities of a good footballer.  Something which I was not.

Like football, pundits and punditry about the charity sector (who me?) are not commodities in short supply.  In fact we can talk for England given the chance.  And particularly when times are difficult.  But, unsurprisingly, it’s the insights of those immersed in the work and those of our supporters that really strike home when out and about.  Much more so than the words of the detached analyst whose opinion may nonetheless be true. 

Over the past forntight I have had much time to talk to our member charities attending a range of AMRC events; our workshop  ‘Working with NIHR,’ not to mention seminars on ‘The UK’s international competitiveness in research’ and public and patient involvement (PPI) in research prioritisation and commissioning.  The mood has often been positive but reflective about our own defining qualities.

A few weeks ago Mark Walport (Wellcome Trust) wrote a rather good article in Research Fortnight in which he urged medical research charities to retain their strengths as ‘independent, innovative and creative institutions.’ I would agree.  But I would add at least two more to the list both of which have come through so clearly for me over the past few weeks.

First, passion. For every medical research charity there is a compelling and often very personal story behind its foundation.  Take the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) which was set up in the US 40 years ago by parents of children with type 1 diabetes.  JDRF now spends millions on research in the UK each year and continues to drive on towards its mission to cure this disease.  It is propelled by the original story of its founders but also the stories of countless people it has helped along the way.  They, like our other members, are driven by the desire to provide better answers for patients. 

Second, ‘trust.’  Whichever way you look at it , UK charities have a unique and strong bond of trust with their donors and supporters.  To paraphrase one of my colleagues: in other countries, donors will give significant amounts of money to their favourite insitution or hospital with little heed paid to whether what is being done there is either good or not so good.  In the UK, when donors give charities their money they trust us to have the proper system in place to ensure it is put towards science that will benefit patients and is of the highest quality.

So, perhaps there is a another to add to the list – a devotion to quality. 

Trust, Passion, Quality.

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