Letters

Quick fixes for research assessment exercise will not work

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7256.302 (Published 29 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:302
  1. Selwyn St Leger (Selwyn.St.Leger{at}man.ac.uk), consultant in public health medicine
  1. University of Manchester, School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, Manchester M13 9PT

    EDITOR—Tomlinson challenges those who seek to abandon the research assessment exercise to propose a credible alternative for the accountable allocation of public money.1 Goldbeck-Wood quotes a patients' spokesman, Clive Wilkinson, as saying, “The public understands that research is essential; but it needs to be on their terms—not on the basis of what is comfortable to academics.”2

    The research assessment exercise's criteria are those by which scientists customarily judge their peers; as Tomlinson observes, they take little account of the impact of medical research on the quality of practice. The alternative to the exercise is to place health related research and development at the heart of NHS change management.

    Applied medical research is not “science.”3 Its “change promoting paradigm” is directed toward the needs of resource managers (including clinicians). Thus research and development should be commissioned to meet the particular needs of managers and aid real life decision taking.

    Programmes of research and development encompassing clinical, economic, humanistic, and implementation issues are needed rather than the current plethora of inconsequential studies. Medical schools should receive their infrastructure funding within these programmes (implying transfer of some Higher Education Funding Council money to the NHS). Many programmes will be rolling ones, and continuation of funding should be conditional on researchers having engaged in the concerns of the commissioners.

    Once confidence in commissioning has been achieved it will be time to do likewise with the applied research component of Medical Research Council money; direct transfer to the NHS seems best. Finally, the research charities will perceive the strength of commissioning and realise the benefits (for example, the more ready implementation of affordable advances) of collaborating with NHS resource managers.

    Accomplishing this may not be easy. But I challenge people to tell me not that it “cannot” be done but why it “should not” be done.

    References

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