By Ben Allcock, Civil Service Fast Streamer

Published: 4 October 2022

I have spent six months at the Association of Medical Research Charities and to say it’s flown by would be an understatement, it’s been a fantastic experience that I will take a lot from and I am truly sad to say goodbye to such a motivated, kind and passionate team. For those who do not know, I’m a part of the Civil Service Fast Stream – the Science and Engineering scheme to be precise, meaning that my time here at AMRC has been a secondment and I am ultimately bound for a return into Government for my final year on the scheme.  

A quick aside on my personal history: My ‘origin story’ lies in biomedical research; I studied for a PhD in cell biology (paper forthcoming!) looking at how culturing liver cells on different surfaces resulted in cell shape changes, which in-turn would alter their biological behaviour. Over-time, the trials and tribulations of practical lab-work took their toll, but this work gave me a lasting interest in medical research and human health more generally. After concluding my research, I sought work where I could build upon my scientific expertise and apply it in broader settings, ultimately bringing me to the Fast Stream. My first post was a year in DHSC working on Rare Disease Policy, followed by a six-month stint in Defence working on innovation policy.  

When I was told I’d be going to the AMRC for my secondment, I was delighted – health is ultimately where I’d like to work in the long-term, and I was eager to gain experience of policy work in a charity to see how things operated on ‘the other side’ from Government. It’s safe to say that my expectations were exceeded, I couldn’t have asked for a better placement which combined a captivating subject area with great developmental opportunities! I’ve felt part of a very supportive and welcoming group of colleagues and have had the freedom to set the direction on a significant project. What I’ve particularly enjoyed about working in charity is the proactive nature of the work – representing the community and calling upon policy makers to deliver meaningful change in key areas. It’s been fascinating (and at times challenging) to balance the need to push for ambitious change against the pragmatic mindset required in making actionable recommendations to Government.  

For my stint here, I’d been given an engaging and important project to work on – leading on the Health Disparities Inquiry for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research (which AMRC provides the secretariat for). NHS England defines health inequalities as unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society. As soon as I started my desk research for the inquiry, it became rapidly apparent just how widespread and impactful they are on the health outcomes (life expectancy for example) of many people across the UK. This inquiry aims to highlight the importance of medical research in reducing health inequalities, and the challenges it faces in doing so. We’ve benefitted from a wide range of insightful perspectives through both written evidence submissions and our first roundtable, all of which tease out the central issues and the critical role of medical research. It’s been truly fascinating and enlightening to work on, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the inquiry progresses – particularly its publication in January.  

I’ve learned many things during my secondment – first and foremost about health inequalities – but on the developmental side, my takeaways include an understanding of how research and charities operate, how to plan, organise and run a substantial project, and how to influence parliamentarians. Ultimately, while my time here has felt short, it has certainly been ‘sweet’ – I’ve worked on something valuable and impactful and I have had a great time doing so.