Science at the Conservative Party Conference – notes from a large fringe

Stumbling half-asleep across my hotel room this morning I overheard a spokesman from the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on the TV saying that every £1 invested in arts in the city generated a further £29 in economic activity. Or something along those lines.

As Orwellian visions filled my mind of a day to come where every minute of our lives is assessed in terms of productivity I quickened my pace. Like most men I really must learn to multi-task better.

The ‘Research to the Rescue’ fringe hosted by BHF, Diabetes UK and the Stroke Association yesterday lunchtime was a storming success. A good 70 or so delegates I think. Earl Howe was in attendance again.

Quote of the day…and I promise I am not biased towards them…was from Betty McBride at BHF who explained why international leadership in science was important said: ‘You don’t get asked to the party unless you are one of the frontrunners.’ But Joe Korner from the Stroke Association came close with: ‘We need to live in an environment of good science that is inspired by government.’

Earl Howe acknowledged the difficulties in enthusing NHS Trusts in medical research and said that NIHR was working on a standards framework which would be a facilitator to enabling Trusts to cut through procedures and make things happen more quickly: ‘I am determined that we will do a lot better in this area.’

Responding to Osborne’s statement about medical research earlier in the day he would not be drawn into a debate about science budgets but said: ‘We [ministers] would be loath to see any dimution of the health research budget in the Department of Health.’ He also said it would be ‘fixed and ring-fenced’.

I was pleased there was a question from the floor about researchers having access to data in an electronic format and the Conservatives have sounded much more positive about this ever since…they came into government.

Earl Howe said that the computerisation of patient records was very important and that the lack of this facility was a real problem.  He said that information was central to achieving the coalition government’s plans with regard to the Outcomes Framework etc. He reminded everyone that the Department of Health’s IT strategy consultation document would be out very shortly and that it would ask the community some deep questions to help with this major stream of work.

But Dr Iain Frame from Diabetes UK made the salient point that the difficulties have been overcome in Scotland (all patient information for those suffering from diabetes is made available electronically there) and that the key reason this had happened was ‘political will’.

Charities will be heartened by the fact that Earl Howe acknowledged the importance of the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) and was convinced that his counterpart, David Willetts, was ‘very well seized’ with it.

I am off to seize the day.

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