Some of you may know that today was being dubbed ‘Super Wednesday’ by some because today is the day that the Department of Health has set out its response to the consultation on the NHS White Paper ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.‘
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has very helpfully published an overview of all the statements in the next steps document relevant to research.
What do I make of it? Well, in the general scheme of policy this was never going to be ‘super’ anything. This document is functional in tone – it bridges us from what was in the white paper to what will appear in the legislation in the New Year (talk is, it will be January some time). And as you read it is becomes obvious pretty quickly that there is much detail still to be worked through and plenty of opportunity for probing amendments during the passage of the legislation to tease out the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’ That’s fair enough in a plan this large and I think most will be pleased at the Government’s decision to take longer over some of the changes.
In terms of the research relevant bits, it makes ample reference to the spending review settlement and the ongoing regulatory review but does not seem to say a great deal more on some of the mechanics for supporting research through the tarriff system. However, what it does do – and I’m delighted about this – is confirm that the legislation will place explicit duties with respect to research on the new NHS Commissioning Board and economic regulator (‘Monitor). This includes, in the case of the former, the promotion of involvement in research which is also good news. That research will be led from the top in this way makes me optimistic that the momentum on research will not be lost in the changes.
In addition, I thought this was a particularly important statement:
“Monitor will also have explicit duties to have regard to the need to promote research and investment by providers, and to the need to secure continuous improvement in the quality of services”. (para 6.61)
As a colleague within NHS research recently said to me, if Trusts/providers are to engage with, and consider research as part of, their core role then they must see it as part and parcel of the way they are being regulated and monitored. But more importantly,that making this connection with the quality agenda will resonate more strongly with Trust Boards than arguments about the difference made to their bottom line by undertaking research. It is quality – good or bad – that makes the average director of any service-focused organisation stand up and take notice, they said.