Hospitals at risk after research is questioned: Study finds half of specialist units' projects do not merit funding

THE FUTURE of some of Britain's most prestigious specialist hospitals was put in jeopardy yesterday with the publication of a review that found that half the research did not merit special government funding.

The hospitals say that without the money they will find it difficult to survive in the internal NHS market, which they will join next April.

The eight London hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Marsden Hospital, which specialises in cancer treatment, are directly funded by the Department of Health because of their high research workload. They receive pounds 360m a year.

The report was independently compiled for the Department of Health under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Michael Thompson, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University, and found that the quality of research and planning 'varied greatly'.

The Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte's Hospital was outstanding when its research projects were rated, the report says. But the independent reviewers could find no research that was either internationally important or of high importance to the NHS at the Eastman Dental Hospital.

The hospitals of the Special Health Authorities selected the research projects they submitted for review. These were then rated for scientific merit and for importance to the NHS. The aim of the review was to identify research that would merit financial protection in the NHS market.

The report lists projects to which the reviewers gave alpha plus for 'best in the world' research of international importance, or alpha ratings for work of national importance. Then they rated the work as of high, medium or low importance to the NHS.

Those of greatest value received both an alpha plus and a 'high' rating. Six Hammersmith projects reached this level. Great Ormond Street scored three, although most of its projects were of high NHS importance.

The Royal Brompton National Heart and Lung Hospitals also has three areas of research at 'alpha plus, high'. The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital have two each. The Royal Marsden Hospital had no alpha plus projects but three alpha projects of high NHS importance. The Eastman had no alpha or high ratings.

The review now goes to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, and will form part of the broader decisions about the future of all of London's hospitals.

The special health authorities comprise single speciality hospitals and were established in 1974. As hospitals drawing patients from across the UK, they had special funds and high staff levels to cope with the demands of complex diseases. But since then expertise in specialist areas has spread across the country.

A spokesman for the Eastman Dental Hospital said last night that the hospital was considering the report.

Special Health Authorities: Research Review; HMSO; pounds 7.10

----------------------------------------------------------------- HOSPITAL RESEARCH RATINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- *Alpha Plus Alpha H* M* Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte's Hospitals 9 7 8 8 Royal Brompton National Heart and Lung Hospitals 5 4 7 2 Bethlehem Royal and Maudsley Hospital 3 4 6 1 National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery 4 7 4 7 Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children 3 11 11 3 Moorfields Eye Hospital 2 2 2 2 Royal Marsden Hospital 0 9 3 6 ----------------------------------------------------------------- *Alpha Plus is best in the field internationally; Alpha = best in the field nationally. H = high importance to the NHS; M = medium importance. -----------------------------------------------------------------