Cancer research at risk in scramble for care funds

Research into cancer and dementia will come under threat from labour government plans to fund social care, experts warned.

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, told The Times that millions of pounds would be “reprioritised” from health research and development to pay the costs of the Social Care Bill..

Money will also be diverted from public health campaigns such as those on swine flu, sexually transmitted diseases and obesity.

The Bill, a key plank of Gordon Brown’s pre-election legislative agenda, has been condemned by Labour peers, scientists and health campaigners. It would guarantee free care at home or other support for up to 400,000 elderly and disabled people from next October, at a cost of £670 million a year.

Mr Burnham, disclosing for the first time how he planned to pay for the proposal, said that £60 million would be diverted from the health service’s research and development (R&D;) budget and £50 million from public health promotions.

Further funds will be sought as part of a “major productivity drive”, he said. The NHS is expected to make up to £20 billion in efficiency savings over the next four years. Hospitals could see their income tied to levels of patient satisfaction on matters such as the quality of maternity care.

Scientists warned of the consequences of cutting research budgets, which help to support the clinical trials of new medicines.

Nick Dusic, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “This is extremely disturbing as the NHS budget was supposed to be ringfenced to protect long-term investment into the health needs of this country. In any department any raid on the R&D; budget is supposed to be discussed first with the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. If they’ve breached this process it’s an extremely worrying development that needs to be looked into.”

Health ministers are expected to be interrogated in detail about which elements of the R&D; budget should be cut to pay for social care as part of a continuing inquiry by the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

Lord Warner of Brockley, the Labour peer and former Health Minister who last week described the social care proposals as “totally misjudged”, said: “I will be looking at the Bill very carefully to see if my worst fears are confirmed and whether the figures really do add up.”

Mr Burnham defended the Bill from claims that it amounted to “an admiral firing an Exocet into his own flagship”.


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