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Medical Research (Career Structure)

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will establish a career structure and a controlling board for medical research in the National Health Service; what study he has made of the report by the Association of Researchers in Medical Sciences entitled " The Case for Careers in Medical Research "; and if he will make a statement;(2) if he is satisfied that the present system of short-term contracts in medical research in the National Health Service leads to the most efficient uses of finance and manpower; and if he will take steps to ensure continuity in such research and to offer more security of employment for those engaged in such research.

The ARMS report is related specifically to biomedical research. The main Government-funded body supporting medical—and in particular biomedical—research is the Medical Research Council, with funds provided by the Department of Education and Science and the Health Departments. It would not, therefore, be appropriate for me to establish a controlling board for medical research in the NHS.Funding of medical and other research by the DHSS is not limited to short-term contracts. Nearly half of DHSS funding is through research units in universities and other institutions. Support for these units is on a long-term basis, usually for a minimum period of six years, with provision for review and extension. Many of the research staff have security for the duration of the unit's support and can have up to four years' notice if it is decided to withdraw support. These arrangements provide for continuity of research and enable research staff to remain in post for 10 years or more. In order to give a further degree of security, however, the Department is introducing shortly a scheme under which staff in participating units where support is reduced or withdrawn may be considered for supernumerary posts in other DHSS-funded units.It remains necessary for many research projects to be supported on a short-term basis—both by the Department and under the NHS locally organised research scheme.These projects usually arise from initiatives by applicants—often experienced researchers in tenured posts—who would not conduct the research if the Department was unwilling to provide short-term funds for additional research staff.Details of the research units and programmes supported by the Department are given in the DHSS Handbook of Research and Development 1979, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.