Earl Howe's Speech at the AMRC AGM

 I thought you may be interested in this extract from the Health Minister, Earl Howe’s, speech to out AGM on Wednesday:

It also gives me pleasure to note [that] AMRC member expenditure on research having exceeded £1 billion for the year for the first time. Given the economic circumstances, I think this is something about which you should all feel immensely proud.

 Research history

 Indeed, that feeling of pride should be shared by everyone involved in medical research.

 Since the NHS was established in 1948, research has brought incalculable benefits for patients. Treatments have been improved. Inequalities have been reduced. Productivity has been increased.

 The contribution made by medical research charities in facilitating these benefits has been, and continues to be, enormous.  The lives of people with wide-ranging needs – those with mental illness, long-term conditions, dementia – change because of the work done by the organisations represented in this room.

The coalition greatly values the efforts and dedication of all involved: from those who raise money through sponsored activities, to those who plan and implement strategy. For that to still be happening during a time of economic uncertainty is truly heartwarming.

Together with funders and donors in the public and private sectors, research charities have helped place this nation at the forefront of medical research.  Currently, the UK ranks second to the USA in share of world citations to clinical papers.

And it is our job to support the research community in its efforts.

In 1991, four years after the AMRC was established, it was a Conservative government that set up the NHS Research and Development programme.  I was but a humble transport whip back then.

Now, nineteen years later, the commitment of the coalition government to health research has been emphasised both in the Strategic Spending Review and in our White Paper, “Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS”.

It’s on record. It’s there for everyone to see. Because we know how central research is to every aspect of the NHS.

Future direction

 But of course, commitment is nothing without actual progress. So what can you, the people in this room, expect to see from us? How will we enable the research community to keep on innovating?

To start off, the coalition will demonstrate its dedication by increasing spending on health research in real terms over the next four years. 

Some may question the wisdom of this increase, given funds are so tight. But to them I say – this is precisely the time where innovation, investigation and invention becomes most valuable.

Research saves money. I get the impression I may be preaching to the converted, eulogising medical research with the Association of Medical Research Charities. But it’s true. It allows us to identify new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. It is essential if we are to increase the quality and productivity of the NHS, which are, after all, the best ways of making efficiency savings.

From the extra funding, we will provide support to the National Institute for Health Research so it can play a full role in pulling basic scientific advances into tangible benefits for patients and the economy. 

We are also providing £220 million of capital funding for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. I attended the signing ceremony the other day and am tremendously excited about the venture.  The Centre is due to open in 2015. It will help drive forward the prevention treatment of disease by researching biology, developing technologies and engaging with the public.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will ensure that Medical Research Council expenditure is maintained in real terms, ensuring total health research funding will increase across all sectors.

And through the intrinsic bond between the NHS and universities, the National Institute for Health Research – NIHR – is turning laboratory-based discoveries into cutting-edge treatments that make a real difference to people’s lives. Through the internationally-recognised Biomedical Research Centres and Units, the NIHR is helping translate pure research into practical success.

That is something particularly relevant to us here today. I know that 37% of all studies supported through the NIHR Clinical Research Network are funded by AMRC members. I applaud your input in this work.

Earlier this year I visited one of these Units at Moorfield Eye Hospital. The quality and inventiveness of the work I saw was quite staggering. Amongst other things, I was shown the projects currently being developed by NIHR-supported teams on glaucoma. They were developing ways to identify glaucoma sooner, treat it better and research it more thoroughly than ever before.

This work is invaluable. So the White Paper explicitly states that we will continue to promote the role of Biomedical Research Centres and Units, Academic Health Science Centres and Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, to develop research and turn it into improvements in education and patient care.

Innovation pathway

Of course, for this to happen, there need to be efficient ways for innovations to reach the patients that need them. This must be across the NHS.  

That is the difference, I think, between invention and innovation – successful application.

It is crucial that best practice, innovative ways of working and new technologies are not only identified and adopted locally, but are shared and spread across the NHS.  Our challenge – both mine and yours – is to achieve the systematic adoption and diffusion of innovation at pace and scale. To make the NHS a true champion of innovation.

This means we must not only enable innovation, but also encourage a climate in which adoption of innovation is welcomed. In which people believe innovation will improve their lives and their work.

My department will be focusing on greater decentralisation, greater responsibility for GPs and patients and a Big Society. This will help create incentives to encourage the systematic adoption of innovation, empowering patients and society by putting them in control. It will create a ‘pull’ – a demand – for new ideas and technologies as well as ‘push’ – a supply.

We want to encourage the uptake of new medicines. So we have developed new national metrics and more are in the pipeline. These metrics will show clinicians what their international peers are prescribing.

And we will reform the payments and incentives system, concentrating more on outcomes. This will not be easy. Value is not easily defined. But we will work with patients, and we will work with clinicians, and we will work with industry and charities, to define what the incentives will be. 

The fact is, innovation is booming.

Regional Innovation Funds generated nearly 2,000 applications this year, with productivity measurements suggesting projects achieving returns on investments of between 60 and 2600%.

A recent independent study from the Kings Fund and Innovation Unit reported that innovation now seen as ‘core business’ for the NHS, specifically at board level.

And of course there are the Expos. Expo 2009 was a great success and Expo 2011 in March will be even bigger and better.

Regulation

And yet there is still more we can do.

Recently, the UK has gained something of an unwanted reputation as the regulatory capital of the world. A reputation for complexity. For inconsistency. For convolution.

It is unacceptable to me and to the coalition that research in this country could be hindered by form-filling and box-ticking.

We have asked the Academy of Medical Sciences to conduct an independent review of the regulation and governance of medical research.  It will report soon. 

When it does, we will look at the legislation and bureaucracy that affects medical research and radically simplify it.  To allow you, the researchers, the freedom from paperwork that will best support our shared goals.

We are considering a national research regulator and expect the Academy’s working group to make detailed recommendations about that.

We also want to reduce the regulatory burden that charities face when they engage in research.  The National Research Ethics Service and the National Institute for Health Research have already made some headway in harmonising different processes.  I want to thank them what they have done.

Conclusion

This Government values the input of charities in medical research. It creates jobs, it shares knowledge and it ensures patients receive access to the highest-quality treatment, preventative care and outcomes.

We are committed to a future in which research continues as a core function of the NHS. This commitment is written down in the White Paper, where everyone can see it.

My department already works closely with your organisations. I look forward to that relationship continuing and developing to achieve what is our joint aim – to have health outcomes as good as any in the world.

Thank you.

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