Department of Health says sorry to charity over premature birth research figures
22 January 2007
THE Department of Health has apologised to a leading medical charity for claiming it had got its sums wrong when it criticised Government spending on premature birth research.
In a statement to Action Medical Research, the Department of Health has admitted that the charity was right after all when it pointed out that just £3.7 million was spent by the Government in 2004-05 on medical research to tackle premature birth – the UK’s biggest killer of babies less than a year old.
At the time, the Department told the BBC that it spent almost double the sum quoted by Action Medical Research, namely £6 million (1).
The charity, however, said it was quoting from official sources, including a Freedom For Information Request and Hansard, a fact which the Department of Health now accepts (2).
Speaking after receiving a telephoned apology and a written statement from the Department of Health, Action Medical Research’s Communications Director, Andrew Proctor, said:
“I wish we had been wrong, and that the figures were better than we had been told. But the truth is that our statement was right all the time and funding in this area is woefully inadequate.
“Every year 1600 babies die as a direct result of being born too soon and yet the Government does not appear to consider this as a priority when allocating its research spending. Action Medical Research is funding as much research as we can from voluntary donations, but we believe Government must do more too.
“We are now calling on Lord Hunt (Minister of State at the Department of Health, responsible for Research) to meet our coalition of parents, clinicians and researchers to begin discussions on how more funding can be made available for premature birth research.”
“We know that the public are really concerned about this issue. When our charity commissioned an IPSOS/Mori poll late last year (3), we found this Government complacency over funding for premature birth research to be entirely at odds with the situation the public would like to see.
“The public believed that the Government is committing 12 per cent of its total medical research budget to solving prematurity when the true figure is actually just 0.3 per cent.
“The survey also revealed that the public would like to see the Government committing more than 24 per cent of its total resource to solving this problem. That would put spending at more than £312 million for premature birth research which puts the actual figure of £3.7 million into perspective.”
Professor Neil Marlow (4) Professor of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Nottingham (and President of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine) said:
“Neonatal care has dramatically improved the outcome for premature babies based on the results of good research studies. Further benefits are being hampered by this lack of funding, and were it not for the support of charities we would be further than ever from being able to understand the causes and possible treatments for prematurity.”
Action Medical Research has been campaigning for more funding for research into premature birth for the past two years, through its Touching Tiny Lives campaign and a petition handed in to Downing Street in December 2006 attracted 10,000 signatures including many prominent clinicians and researchers as well as those whose lives have been devastated by the loss of a premature baby.
Notes to editors
1.Dept of Health/MRC figures uncovered by Action Medical Research (£3.7m) for the period 2004-05.
2.Following a Freedom for Information request made to the Dept of Health, to include figures from the Dept of Health research budgets and also the Medical Research Council (which were supplied directly by MRC)
3.The survey was conducted by IPSOS MORI based on a representative sample of 1184 adults aged 15+ in Great Britain using an in-home face to face methodology. Fieldwork was conducted between the 8th and 14th December 2006. Results are weighted to be representative of the adult population in Great Britain.
4.Professor Neil Marlow is President of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine. He was also part of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Group that produced the report “Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues” earlier in 2006.
5.Action Medical Research has been making breakthroughs for over 50 years, and its life-saving work benefits babies, children and adults. The Charity’s successes include helping develop the UK polio vaccine, ultrasound scanning in pregnancy, the hip replacement operation, and discovering the link between taking folic acid and preventing spina bifida. www.action.org.uk
6.For more information, background or to arrange an interview with either Andrew Proctor (Communications Director, Action Medical Research) or Simon Moore (Chief Executive, Action Medical Research), please contact:
Action Medical Research
01403 327 493
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