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Health and Social Care Bill — Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 27th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Willis of Knaresborough Lord Willis of Knaresborough Chair, Science and Technology: Sub-Committee I (Higher education in STEM subjects) 10:30 pm, 27th February 2012

My Lords, I am eager to speak at this late hour. It seems that every time we talk about research it is always around 11 o'clock at night. The Minister and his minions must be planning something which we do not quite know about, but here we are. I support Amendments 66AA and 67AA standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin. Will my noble friend the Minister clarify the issue over the head of research at NIMR? At an early stage on Report, he clarified the duties of the Secretary of State and the commissioning groups, and how they will be reported. I think that is quite clear to the House. Speaking on behalf of the medical research charities, one of which I chair, there is general agreement on and support for the Minister's general direction of travel. However, the Commissioning Board is a different issue altogether. The Minister was silent on that when he reported back but he indicated that it would be the role of the chief executive of NIMR, Dame Sally Davies, to prepare plans and report back on research. However, my understanding is that Dame Sally Davies has two specific jobs. On the one hand, she is the chief executive of NIMR and is therefore responsible for funding research proposals that come to the Department of Health. That is a very distinct role of looking after more than £1 billion of spend in this particular direction.

Her other role is that of Chief Medical Officer. In that role, I understand that she is responsible for organising, on behalf of the Department of Health, research programmes that deal with both public health and those areas of the health programme that require specialist research input. The Minister appeared to say earlier on Report that Dame Sally Davies would, in her role as the head of NIMR, report to the board on research. However, perhaps she will not report to the board on research; perhaps she has a separate reporting line to the Secretary of State or Parliament. In that case, I should very much like the Minister to clarify that role.

In conclusion, I strongly support the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, in making her point about cherry picking duties. Earlier today, in response to Amendment 38A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the Minister rightly said that we should not cherry pick particular conditions in order to report on them. However, that is exactly what is happening over the duties. A specific set of duties, of which the whole House is incredibly supportive, are laid down in the Bill. However, only certain ones must be included in an annual plan and reported on. There can be no duty more important than that of research. It is the one area in which we will get the very latest treatments to patients quicker and with better health outcomes, yet it is one of the areas that is regarded as less important than others. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy both the medical research charities and this House on those two issues.