HL Deb 11 December 1958 vol 213 cc213-5

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that only 2 per cent. of the Medical Research Council's budget is spent on research into the causes of mental illness, and whether, having regard to the statement in the Report of the Ministry of Health for the year 1957 that "psychiatrists are still a long way from a scientific understanding of most of the major forms of mental illness", they will take steps to increase facilities for such research.]


No, my Lords. The Medical Research Council's expenditure on research into the causes of mental illness has been steadily rising during the past few years, and in the present financial year will amount to some £130,000. This is over 4 per cent., and not 2 per cent., of the Council's annual budget. Arrangements have recently been made by the Council to undertake a full-scale review of research in this field with a view to considering its future development.

In addition, the noble Lord will no doubt be aware that a number of voluntary organisations and philanthropic trusts, such as the Mental Health Research Fund, the Nuffield Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Ford Foundation, make important contributions to psychiatric research. The Mental Health Research Fund, for example, spent about £36,000 during the financial year 1957–58 and their total expenditure since 1954 is estimated at £86,000. During the past five years the Nuffield Foundation have also spent a substantial sum on subjects relevant to mental disorder. The Leverhulme Trust and the Ford Foundation have made large block grants to the Mental Health Research Fund; and the Wellcome Trust have made direct contributions to work in this field.

As "observational" research may be an integral part of clinical practice, the work of those in psychiatric practice in teaching and mental hospitals should be included in the total sum of the nation's research, but this cannot be measured in exact financial terms, nor described as a specific research programme. Certain London teaching hospitals, for example, have active neuro-psychiatric units to which research fellows, supported by endowment funds, are appointed by the hospitals themselves. Research of this kind is also supported at many other hospitals through Regional Hospital Boards. Expenditure within the National Health Service in this way is estimated at £25,000 for 1957. University psychiatric departments also make individual contributions to research in this subject.


My Lords, whilst welcoming the statement that the present expenditure is double that of the previous year, may I ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he is aware that it is still very much too small in relation to the need? Is he aware, for example, that the expenditure last year on research into schizophrenia was only £27,000, equal to about ½d. a year a head of the population, and that schizophrenia, in its chronic forms, claims more victims than any other disease, mental or physical? It costs £15 million a year to keep these people in hospital, although many of them are now thought to be curable. Is the noble Viscount further aware that the Report of the Medical Research Council, which he signed, indicates that, out of sixty-seven principal committees of the Council, none is concerned with mental health, and, out of sixty-three research units, only one is conducting basic research into the causes and treatment of mental illness? Is he aware that there is very serious public concern about this matter?


My Lords, I do not think my noble and learned friend could be aware of all this at once. I think it is perhaps going a little far.


My Lords, would the noble Earl observe that the Answer, which was very informative, was an immensely long Answer; and surely the noble Lord asking the Question is entitled to cover the ground given in the Answer.


My Lords, if we cover all this ground at once, we shall cover no more ground to-day.


My Lords, while welcoming the noble and learned Viscount's information that there is to be a review of this subject, may I ask this question? Will the review include the possibility of the Medical Research Council making a grant to the Mental Health Research Fund, to which the noble Viscount referred, in view of the fact that the Ford Foundation grant to that organisation is now, unfortunately, running out.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord must be aware that that is within the purview of the executive function of the Medical Research Council.


My Lords, whilst apologising for asking too many questions, may I ask the noble and learned Viscount to deal with the point that there is no mental health committee among the committees of the Medical Research Council, and only one research unit, which is mentioned in the Report that he signed?


My Lords, this is precisely the sort of question for which the Medical Research Council are responsible.

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