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NHS confirms it has a duty to promote research

The Department of Health has published its first-ever ‘mandate’ for the NHS Commissioning Board, confirming the board will have duties to promote research and innovation.

The department’s mandate, released on 13 November, follows a consultation on a draft published in July. It sets out ambitions for the NHS over the next two years.

On the topic of research, the board will have a responsibility to “ensure that the new commissioning system promotes and supports participation by NHS organisations and NHS patients in research funded by both commercial and non-commercial organisations”.

This objective means the board will have to “ensure payment” of costs for NHS patients taking part in research funded by government and research charity partners.

Another board responsibility will be to promote education and training, although there are few details on exactly how this should be carried out. The mandate states that “The board should support Health Education England in ensuring that the health workforce has the right values, skills and training to enable excellent care.”

On innovation, the mandate states that the government will hold the board to account for “freeing up” local organisations and professionals.

“The board’s objective is to get the best health outcomes for patients by strengthening the local autonomy of clinical commissioning groups, health and wellbeing boards, and local providers of services,” reads the document.

By 2015 the board should have backed the creation of a “fair playing field, so that care can be given by the best providers, whether from the public, independent or voluntary sector”. The objective will include “major improvements” in how the NHS undertakes procurement, adds the document.

Responding to the mandate’s publication, John Tooke, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said, “We welcome the NHS Commissioning Board’s objective to ensure that the new commissioning system promotes and supports participation by NHS organisations and NHS patients in research… Research and innovation must sit at the heart of the NHS if we are to deliver better patient care and drive forward a strong commercial life sciences sector.

“We are also pleased that the commissioning board’s duty to promote education and training is recognised within the new mandate. Education and training, alongside research and innovation, are core activities of the NHS and underpin the delivery of all the objectives laid out in the new mandate,” it added.

The Association of Medical Research Charities said in its response that it was disappointed by “lack of attention to education and training” in the draft. It called on the government to do more to develop “recognised career paths for scientists and clinical staff wishing to engage with research within the NHS”.

Health minister Jeremy Hunt described the publication of the document as a “historic step”.