The UK’s bonfire of the quangos continued today, as the coalition government lined up a selection of health-related agencies for termination. Rising from the ashes may be a new super-regulator for research as the government has pledged a “radical simplification” of medical research.
Overall, the Department of Health is to reduce the number of its so-called arm’s length bodies from the current 18 down to around nine as part of the government’s aim is to shave over 45% from the administrative cost of the National Health Service.
Among the casualties is the Health Protection Agency, which provides scientific advice to government, doctors and the public about infectious diseases. Its work will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Health.
In addition, two agencies of vital importance to researchers will see their functions moved on to other organisations: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). Their research regulation roles could eventually be taken over by the new regulatory body.
Both the HFEA, which regulates the use of embryos in research, and the HTA, which takes a similar role for other tissues, will continue to exist in the short term until their work can be transferred.
“Currently a number of different arm’s-length bodies have responsibility for different aspects of research regulation, including giving permissions,” says a new Department of Health review.
“There is a strong argument for rationalising this and creating greater strategic coherence around research by placing responsibility for these different aspects of medical research regulation within one arm’s-length body that would perform a stand-alone technical function as a research regulator.”
The Academy of Medical Science has been commissioned to review the UK’s regulation of medical research and a final decision on a new regulator will be made after it reports its finding in autumn.
Among those bodies spared the axe are the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which oversees cost effectiveness research for the NHS, and drug regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
“Over the years the sector has grown to the point where overlap between organisations and duplication of effort have produced a needless bureaucratic web,” says Andrew Lansley, the health secretary. “By making sure that the right functions are being carried out at the appropriate level, we will free up significant savings to support front-line NHS services.”