NHS changes 'harm medical research': The British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting

REFORMS of the National Health Service are destroying hospital-based medical research, the president of the British Association warned last night, writes Celia Hall.

Professor Sir David Weatherall said that there had been a complete change in philosophy as set out in the White Paper Working for Patients.

'This White Paper, in which research is barely mentioned, makes a clear distinction between purchasers and providers of care. In the resulting marketplace economy of some of our teaching hospital trusts, it is already clear that, presumably because it poses a risk to competitiveness, research is going to be very low on the agenda.'

At the same time, he said, the Department of Health and the NHS were shifting the emphasis away from medical scientists to a 'need-driven' research strategy. The effect was to deny funding to long-term but necessary work.

'Somehow the message has to be transmitted to governments and those responsible for medical funding that the conquest of our major killers and ill health depends not only on economic change and more efficient delivery of health care but also on support for the exploration of disease in the basic science laboratory.'

Science also had to contend with hostility in society, he said. 'It would be a tragedy if this mood of disillusionment with the basic medical science and science in general were to impede progress as we move into the next millennium.'