Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Society of Academic and Research Surgery

  The Society, which represents academic surgery, has the view that notwithstanding some of the favourable recommendations of the committee, that the situation with respect to cancer research in the UK is worse than when the committee originally took evidence.

  In terms of your particular questions:

    (1) It is too early to comment on the success of the NHS cancer plan with respect to research.

    (2) There has been progress in the creation of a National Cancer Research Institute and it is to be hoped that with time this will become an important force. To date, however, much of the activity has related to re-badging existing groups, for instance the UKCCCR groups have been renamed NCRI groups. More important is the relationship of these groups to the funding bodies. We have certainly detected great willingness amongst the cancer charities to sign up to a more seamless approach. However, it is yet to be seen whether the MRC will actually similarly be able to sign up to an integrated approach. There is considerable doubt within the cancer research community about this. Certainly in the past MRC has paid little heed to the priorities of the UKCCCR groups or to studies originating from them. The Byzantine structure of the MRC in the past has militated against funding relevant cancer research in a timely fashion.

    (3) It is incomprehensible to us how the situation with respect to the GMC and Health and Social Care Act has been allowed to occur. Whilst it is likely that Cancer Registries will continue to exist we find that environment created by the above and also the current approach of the Caldicott Guardians has rendered even simple retrospective audit impossible, let alone substantive cancer research based on retrospective data. It must be appreciated that in many circumstances there is no other approach available. In addition the hysteria created post-Alderhay has rendered the enormous archive of pathological material in the UK unavailable for most studies in cancer. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances that would be similarly devastating for clinical cancer research. The above constraints must also be taken together with the enormous, and sometime insurmountable, difficulties put in the way of workers wishing to perform animal research. This has led to the UK becoming a far less attractive location for any form of cancer research than it has been in the past. Many medical scientists will choose to perform such work overseas where the same constraints do not apply.

    (4) The new Cancer Research Networks are to be welcomed and it may indeed improve recruitment to clinical trials. It is too early to assess their success, but the potential is considerable.

  Additionally, on behalf of our own Society, we recommended to the Committee that more importance should be given to surgical research. We were pleased that the Committee also saw fit to support this recommendation. Regrettably we do not believe that there has been any substantive improvement in this area. Indeed, the constraints mentioned in 3 (above) make the environment considerably worse.

Professor J N Primrose

Professor of Surgery

Scientific Secretary

5 December 2001

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