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Research assessment exercise

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 06 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1743

Single funding structure should be created for teaching hospitals

  1. E Malcolm Symonds, Former member of panel for hospital based medicine
  1. Nursery Cottage, The Green, Care Colston, Nottinghamshire NG13 8JE
  2. School of Health, University of Teesside, Middlesbrough TS1 3BA
  3. St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE
  4. Department of Psychiatry, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP

    EDITOR—Williams has summarised the dangers and deficiencies of the research assessment exercise.1 The inevitable and desired consequence of the exercise was to concentrate resources in a limited number of institutions, and in this the process has been a success. Resources have been increasingly directed towards a limited and predictable number of institutions, generally to the detriment of the provincial medical schools, which have been left dangerously exposed both in matters of staff recruitment and in funding.

    Medical schools are supposed to be responsible for training doctors and the provision of clinical services, as well as undertaking research. The clear message from the research assessment exercise, however, is that the first two functions are of minor importance, because the funding is not affected by either dedication to patient care or the quality and effort put into teaching. Furthermore, many of the provincial schools have survived and prospered in the past by the virement of NHS funding into academic posts. This process is now under threat as academic staff are drawn back from clinical work and as posts funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England are predominantly directed towards research and away from clinical work. The interaction between NHS and academic staff in teaching hospitals should be seamless and complementary. The reality is that the relationship is being torn apart, with little prospect for the development of posts that will not improve the results of the research assessment exercise, even if the benefits to the profile and quality of staff in some of the “Cinderella” disciplines may be substantial.

    Is it not time to re-examine the existing structure and to recognise that the provincial medical schools can never compete in the research assessment exercise without grossly distorting their function? There is a strong case to have a single funding …

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