How do your taxes and donations get used to fund health research?

Today the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) has published its UK Health Research Analysis: http://www.ukcrc.org/ukcrc-health-research-analysis-2012/

The report shows spending by the 12 publicly funded health research bodies – including the largest charities such as Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, BHF and Arthritis Research UK – in 2009/10. This is the second analysis to be published, the first being in 2006 and covering the year 2004/5. The UKCRC partners have committed to another exercise looking at expenditure in 2014.

The analysis looks at funding in terms of both type of research i.e. translational, and by condition. I haven’t had time to compare and contrast the first and second reports. But the summary provided calls out some interesting points; the increases in funding for prevention and translational research; the curates egg of a picture around neurological diseases etc – although this pre-dates the dementia challenge initiative.

I recall that when the first analysis was produced there was some nervousness as to how it would be used. It has come into its own, would be my argument. First, in improving transparency about how taxes and donations are spent. Second, in influencing how funders think – research into prevention being the poster child here. Third, as evidence used to support the research case in the last spending review and no doubt again in the future.

As important as the headline conclusions and visual portrayal is what underlies it – the fact that all these funders now use a common system for classifying their research thereby enabling cross-sector analyses to be conducted much more easily. It is all part of a more joined-up and collaborative approach by the funders.

Looking wider the missing elements are industry which has never quite played ball on this one, and the smaller charities. The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) conducted a follow-up analysis with 20+ members using the same system and this was published jointly by AMRC and UKCRC in 2009 as ‘From Donation to Innovation.’ I know from personal experience that this exercise really informed the strategic thinking of those who took part as well as a number who didn’t who then adopted the same classification system.

Anyway, I hope AMRC does the same again in the near future.

Of course, from a public point of view the question is whether this spending picture meets their needs and priorities. That’s more complex to answer than it seems but I think the fact that NIHR is now housing things like the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnerships (PSP) means that we can at least begin to consider the various strands of the answer, together rather than separately. Some charities have also used it as a campaign tool for arguing for more focus and funding on their area which is just fine in my book as the analysis is also about better informing the policy debate – publish and be damned as they say. Again I am aware of several instances where the leverage has helped prompt a discussion which has then leveraged a partnership which can be just as much about using funds more effectively and efficiently than encouraging greater investment.

I should declare the fact that I am a UKCRC Board member.

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