Medical Research - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:59 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 7:59 pm, 28th March 2017

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on securing this debate and raising such important questions. I will touch briefly on three areas.

First, as other noble Lords have said, the UK is a world leader in medical research and the international recruitment of researchers is of paramount importance to maintaining that position. I will reiterate that point by using the bold words of the Science and Technology Select Committee in its recent report that,

“it is not enough to allow talented scientists from around the world to work in the UK: we must attract them vigorously”.

Are the Government going to do this—vigorously?

Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Kakkar has just said, there is a vital symbiotic relationship between medical research and the NHS. The NHS, as the largest integrated health system in the world, is an essential platform for medical research and the biomedical and life sciences that spring from it. At the same time, medical research contributes to the constant improvement of the NHS in everything from drug discovery and the development of therapies to health informatics and patient engagement. This in turn contributes to a healthier, better-educated population, which can improve productivity and bring economic as well as social benefits. We know that this vital two-way relationship does not work perfectly at the moment and the recent decision by NICE that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, referred to makes this matter even worse. What, therefore, are the Government doing to strengthen the NHS as a platform for science and technology and to ensure that the products of science and technology benefit the NHS and its patients?

Thirdly, and taking medical research as a proxy for wider health-related research, I want to speak about research on the impact of nursing. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health recently published a report on nursing globally. Here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who was part of that group and has done so much personally to strengthen nursing in the UK. There are three relevant issues here. First, nurses are half the health workforce globally and what happens with them and how they are developed will impact on how health systems develop in this country and elsewhere. Secondly, our interviewing of nurses revealed that nurses feel they are systematically undervalued and underutilised. It is less of a problem here in the UK but nevertheless there is a strong feeling that nurses could do more, were they enabled to do so. The third and most relevant point is that there is very little quality research on the impact of nursing and the sorts of questions Ministers and planners might ask, such as: when is it appropriate to have specialist nurses? Where is it effective to replace doctors on on-call rotas? How can we measure the impact of trained nurses on different diseases? What more could nurses do?

We need decent evidence on these questions. At the moment we simply do not have it. This is relevant to the UK’s role both at home and in development abroad. Therefore, I ask the Minister: do the Government recognise the importance of research on the impact of nursing? If so, what are they doing to promote it?