Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

M ost members of the Scottish Parliament will be aware of the world-acclaimed reputation of the Golden Jubilee national hospital in Clydebank. Although it provides a wide range of services, it is best known as the home of the regional and national heart and lung service, a flagship hospital for reducing waiting times and the Golden Jubilee research institute. On the research side of the hospital’s work, significant pharmaceutical research projects have been undertaken. Twenty-three such projects are under way, 10 per cent of the research funding for which comes directly from the EU, and 30 per cent of the staff at the hospital are non-UK citizens.

The Golden Jubilee national hospital is truly an international undertaking located in Scotland. Indeed, many overseas medical researchers are drawn there because of the superb facilities and the high reputation of the work that has been undertaken. The Golden Jubilee is also one of the biggest employers in my constituency. It employs more than 1,700 staff, and its plans to extend the building and its facilities and to increase staff levels to 2,900 are well advanced.

Unfortunately, Brexit has already had a negative effect on the hospital’s workload. Recently, trials of a new heart drug were halted by the Californian medical research group Recardio, which cited

“uncertainty due to EU withdrawal”.

While drug trial work in UK hospitals has been cancelled by Recardio, it has continued with such work at continental European facilities. The major problem seems to be medicines regulation post-Brexit. It is not certain that the European Medicines Agency will accept data that is generated in the UK post-Brexit, which means that all internationally funded medical research in the UK is under threat.

My constituent Dr Kevin Parsons, who is a biodiversity lecturer at the University of Glasgow, is preparing what is likely to be his final European research grant application. The grant amounts to €2 million, which is his research group’s biggest source of funding, and it has provided continuity for his research projects for several years. Members can imagine how damaging the loss of that funding will be.

European research networks, which foster collaborative work across the EU, are already dropping their UK partners because of Brexit-related uncertainty. The fact that the UK pays in less for European research than it gets suggests that the UK’s research industry will experience a significant loss after Brexit. Of course, foreign-born academics will follow the money.

The UK Home Office has been less than helpful to retaining in Scotland the high-quality foreign-born academics who we need to keep our research and development industry at the forefront of world achievement.