By Nisha Tailor, Director of External Affairs, AMRC

Published: 30 August 2022

Politics in the UK has its traditions. One of them is that an outgoing Minister will leave a handwritten note for their successor with advice on the role.  

In the spirit of those notes and as we await the outcome of the Conservative leadership election on 5 September, here is my memo to the new Prime Minister setting out our recommendations for science and research. 

1. Commit and take action to make the UK a science superpower 

At a time of economic challenge, committing to science in the longer term will reap benefits for the country in terms of growth, productivity and jobs.  

The previous Government sent a positive signal about the importance of UK science, increasing total R&D spend to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. But now we need to dig deeper and go further.  

If the UK is to truly become a science superpower, we need an “overarching strategy backed up by a sustained implementation plan that links up these strategies to translate them into action”, as AMRC submitted to the Lords Science and Technology (S&T) Committee 

And AMRC is not alone in advocating for this, we joined businesses, charities, researchers and universities in calling for a coherent long-term plan 

I would add, making the UK a science superpower should have the political weight and influence it deserves. That means a Cabinet-level Science Minister, as recommended by the Lords S&T Committee.  

2. Put the life sciences at the heart of a plan for science  

COVID-19 has shown that the life sciences are a significant strength for the UK as a world leader in research.   

The Government’s own Life Sciences Vision states that it (the life sciences) “will be one of the great drivers of growth in the twenty first century.” 

One the key features that gives UK’s life sciences its “edge”, is that it is globally competitive because of the unique diversity of funders that support it. Medical research charities play a vital role in this, enriching the diversity of the research ecosystem (as this animation illustrates).   

To put this in figures, AMRC charities invested £15 billion in UK research in the last decade, funding research across all regions and nations. Every £1 million spent by charities on medical research in the UK contributes £1.83 million to the economy.  

But charities bring so much more to the table. They tackle areas of unmet and underfunded conditions, like rare diseases; they are led by patient and public priorities; and they accelerate health impact by bringing together people and organisations to move promising research forward.  

Moving forward, we need a plan for R&D that puts the life sciences and charities at its heart.  

3. Bring forward a sustainable solution to Horizon Europe  

The current hiatus on Horizon Europe is causing uncertainty for those researchers that want to partner and collaborate across borders. In our sector, charity-funded researchers have partnered with teams spanning 108 countries.  

International collaboration in research is critical, especially for rare conditions and for those with small patient populations, such as childhood cancers. 

We urgently need a sustainable solution to Horizon Europe to provide clarity to researchers and ensure that we can attract and retain talented people and skills, which will be essential to achieving our science ambitions.  

4. Maximise the potential of research in the NHS  

During the pandemic, thousands benefitted from life-saving research on treatments and care that took place within the NHS. And the British public also showed their willingness to support research, with significant numbers volunteering for trials and using research apps.  

We know huge pressures remain on the NHS, and that dedicated NHS staff are working through challenging times. But we must not to lose track of what research in the NHS can achieve.  

We need to maximise the potential of research in the NHS by ensuring that NHS staff can undertake and support research and that they have time and resource to do this.  

Alongside this, we should ensure that NHS data can be used for research and innovation, but only provided it is used responsibility and with public trust.  

Finally, clinical research must reflect the nation’s diversity in its focus and participants. This will help to address the stark health inequalities between communities and help to level up across regions.  

To sum up, science and research is not a quick win. But it can be a vote winner that returns long term benefits to the UK economy, health and society.