HL Deb 14 June 1989 vol 508 cc1424-7

2.58 p.m.

Lord Nelson of Stafford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the research needs of the National Health Service will be met by the new management executive, given the membership which was announced on 22nd May.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the Government will shortly give a full and positive response to the Select Committee's Report on Priorities in Medical Research, which dealt with the research needs of the NHS. The response will explain how the management executive will ensure that the needs for research of NHS management will be properly assessed and reflected in the Department of Health's arrangements.

Lord Nelson of Stafford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which I must say I found rather disappointing. Are the Government aware that there is deep concern that research interests are not directly represented on the new National Health Service Management Executive? Is he also aware that the Medical Research Council supports such an appointment? In view of those facts, will the Secretary of State consider the early appointment of such a member to the National Health Service Management Executive?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am aware of the concern. The management executive recently appointed by my right honourable friend is considering how best the functions which my noble friend would assign to a director of research could best be performed within the executive and for that matter at all levels within the National Health Service. My right honourable friend understands the case for those functions being performed. One of the current directors might be given responsibility for research.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, has the Minister studied the evidence given to the Government by the Medical Research Council? It included the statement that, The proposals in the White Paper could lead to a fragmentation of the NHS, making it more difficult… to mount the necessary research studies. Does he recognise the extent of the concern and the fears expressed by his noble friend? Will he take steps to give a reassurance about this?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that I gave him a reassurance on about 19th April regarding the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to research, as set out in the White Paper. I reiterate that commitment, as expressed in paragraph 4.30, that we are fully committed to maintaining the quality of medical research. We shall provide the powers necessary for all parts of the National Health Service to continue to be involved with research and central funding for the service cost of that research.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is it not quite extraordinary after such an assurance that no person involved in research has been appointed to the management board which we were discussing earlier? Would not that have been the logical way to give some indication of government support?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's worries. However, as I said, the management executive, as recently appointed, will consider the matter and see how it can best be resolved.

Lord Hunter of Newington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following the report of the Croham Committee and the setting up of the Universities Funding Council, it was realised that the important area in the clinical medical schools was that grey area with the knock-for-knock principle operated between two departments of government? That was nearly two years ago. Can he confirm what we understand from the newspapers, that there has been no report from the senior civil servants about how the matter is to be resolved between the two departments of government? It is a matter of the greatest importance to clinical research in the National Health Service.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot confirm that but I shall certainly bring it to the attention of both my right honourable friends.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, in view of the publicly stated opinion of the Secretary of State that it is better to introduce management changes into the National Health Service without pilot experiments, and that it show signs of weakness if what we are doing is rushing off to get academics to advise us, do Her Majesty's Government think that research into the health services has any place at all in the National Health Service?

Lord Henley

Yes, my Lords, of course I do. I have stated quite clearly that Her Majesty's Government remain committed to research within the National Health Service.

Lord Peston

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, when he considers questions of research generally, whether he will convey to the Secretary of State the enormous importance which some of us attach to research in psychiatry? Will he convey to his right honourable friend how disappointed we are to hear that the general practice research unit at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital is no longer to be supported by his department, despite the enormous importance of its work?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am afraid that I shall not be able to respond to the individual case which the noble Lord mentioned. However, I shall write to him and bring the other matters to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that your Lordships' Select Committee which examined the research needs of the health service received convincing evidence that, if expenditure on health service research, currently running at 0.1 per cent. of NHS expenditure, were to be increased to 0.3 per cent., improvements in efficiency and effectiveness could be achieved which would vastly outweigh the cost of that research? Does he realise—I am sure that he does—that many industrial concerns think that 5 to 10 per cent. of turnover is a reasonable amount to spend on research and development? Does that not back up the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, that an eminent and widely respected scientist should be appointed to the management executive of the NHS?

Lord Henley

My Lords, obviously the Government will deal with the suggestions of the Select Committee in their published response. With regard to the adequacy of research funding, the Medical Research Council, the main body that receives government grants for medical research, has seen its budget rise from £150 million in 1988–89 to £176 million in 1989–90. That is an increase of 12 per cent. The health department's own research budget has gone up from £28.5 million to over £35 million, an increase of 25 per cent.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with me that aJl of us in this House are worried that there is no member with practical research experience in the top management tier and that many of us feel worried that the Government are relying purely on voluntary research contributions? At the moment voluntary research money far exceeds the Government's contribution to the MRC.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall convey to my right honourable friend the worries of the noble Baroness and of other Members of the House. I can only reiterate the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to research. I should also in passing say that we are very grateful for all the voluntary funds that go to research.

Lord Denham

My Lords, perhaps the noble Countess will forgive me intervening for one moment. We have spent 29 minutes on four Questions and perhaps the House might feel that after she has asked her question and my noble friend has replied, we might go on to the next business.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government have not learnt a lesson from the last National Health Service reorganisation after the Griffiths Report? In that reorganisation managers and chairmen of regional and district health authorities were imported from industry. They had no conception of what it was like to work within the National Health Service. Is it not time that the Government realised that the health service needs the experience both of the researchers and—to go back to the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—the nurses rather than of people who have been in Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer's or whatever?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not quite sure which question I am supposed to be answering. As regards the policy board, which was the first question, we have brought in the people whom the noble Countess mentioned for their business expertise and their strategic vision for the National Health Service.