Mid-summer it might be, but my sense is that the prospect of a single regulator for research continues to be the leading topic of debate around and about the community (after the Comprehensive Spending Review of course).
My office brought to my attention this series of comment pieces about a single regulator and its impact on the regulation of human fertilisation and embryology research that have appeared in BioNews over the last three weeks. They include articles by Professor Alison Murdoch (Professor of Reproductive Medicine), Ruth Deitch (former Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)), and former MP, Dr Evan Harris. I strongly recommend a read in the interests of balance and it would be excellent to see BioNews publish a similar piece from a patient perspective.
AMRC is in the process of conducting a survey of our 121 members which will form the basis of our submission to the Academy of Medical Sciences’ second call for evidence on regualtion. My instinctive feel of where our members stand, is that they lean towards the idea of a single regulator but not unquestionably. We shall see if my instincts are correct in due course and we will publish our submission as always.
But it interestsed me that all of the above commentators cite the human admixed embryos debate in their arguments. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, particularly when you are on the winning side. But my memory of that debate is that opposition to a merger of the HFEA and Human Tissue Authority (HTA) was as much promoted by a concern around merging two bodies at a time when the latter had barely got its feet under the table. Nor do I feel that any of us covered ourselves in glory in terms of the public engagement efforts during the pre-legislation consultation phase.
In any event, this is all water under the bridge as far as I am concerned. The key from this point onwards is that we are clear about what we want to achieve by establishing a single regulator or new regulatory framework. Also , that whatever body (or bodies) ultimately emerge, all are open to public scruitny. A point that Evan Harris makes very powerfully in his piece.
How such changes will be put before parliament is a question I have yet to fathom. Could they conceivably be part of the expected Bill which will introduce Lansley’s NHS reforms and is likely to be introduced in the Commons in October? Or will it require separate legislation? The concern would be that, if the former and in a parliamentary set-up which is notoriously poor at getting through a Bill in its entirety, regulatory reform as it pertains to research will get short thrift. Or that such debate is hijacked by single issue campaigns. Given this, one would wish at the very least to see pre-legislative scrutiny of the changes by parliamentary committee.
In reading around this subject I remembered the very powerful Reith Lectures by Baroness O’Neill in 2002 entitled ‘A Question of Trust.’ I am glad that I took the time to read them again last night. They are chock full of messages of relevance to the ongoing debate about regulation. The theme that particularly resonated with me was the argument made that trust lies not in increased transparency (indeed it can be counter-productive if over done) but in good governance and people having the opportunity to track back, question, check and assess how decisions are reached.
That process needs to begin in parliament this autumn.
On a lighter note, those setting off on one of those long car journeys in search of a holiday, may wish to pass way the hours with your passengers thinking of the name for a single research regulator.