Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 13th October 2003.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative 10:30 pm, 13th October 2003

A very similar point arises in relation to this amendment, which concerns teaching and research. No one wants to see research diminish across the health service. We have argued long and hard in this Chamber for sensible mechanisms to ensure the continuation of research in the reformed NHS. But surely we cannot have a regulator who insists on telling a foundation trust that it must carry out, and continue to carry out, this or that type of research. We have only to reflect on what has happened recently in medical schools around the country to realise how misconceived that idea is. This year the DfES decided to skim off 2.2 per cent of the teaching budget in medical schools and channel that money instead into a programme of social inclusion. The result is that medical schools are 2.2 per cent worse off than they were and are having to make cuts.

In some cases those cuts are painful. Collaborative clinical research work between medical schools and NHS trusts is being rationalised and the relevant staff are having to be laid off or redeployed. The effect on some NHS trusts is very direct. However, the point is that that process of rationalisation is something which the medical schools and trusts have no option but to put in train. In any given year it is always possible for the HEFCE to reduce its funding for medical research in certain areas, as has happened this year with Queen Mary's Medical School, for example. At Queen Mary's, as elsewhere in London, there has been a major restructuring of the research base at the behest of the HEFCE.

Against that backdrop it would be totally inappropriate for the regulator to require trusts to carry out particular types of research. It would place a tie on them which is quite unrealistic. If the medical school alongside them, for reasons beyond the trust's control, decided to reconfigure the research base, the trust may have no option but to quit that area of research. Trusts need operational flexibility in the field of research as they do everywhere else. That is why I believe that the provisions in subsection (6) are overly prescriptive. I beg to move.