Perspective: Armed to Fight for Medical Research; There Are Serious Concerns about the UK's Failure to Reverse a Decline in Medical Research. Dr Stephen Cutts, a Surgeon Working in the West Midlands, Laments the Demise of a Proud Tradition and Wonders Why the Emphasis Is on Death Rather Than Healing
Byline: Dr Stephen Cutts
Several months of depressing news from overseas was recently punctuated by the announcements of this year's Nobel Prize for medicine.
Another accolade for British science is nothing new.
This time the honours have been picked up by the inventor of the MRI scanner and our television screens have been filled with pictures of an old man grinning besides a glass of champagne.
But if the next generation of medical researchers are to maintain this impressive track record, it seems to me imperative that our attitude to this field must change.
Even at the dawn of a new century, medical research continues to be considered in charitable terms. Like the spiralling cost of health care itself, the medical research community is seen as one of the expensive shackles of Western lifestyle. Medical research costs money and a nation that fails to generate enough money cannot afford such expensive luxuries.
In contrast, the military industrial complex remains much more adept at self promotion. The British armaments industry is a world leader and the benefits this brings to us all are rarely out of the headlines. There is a modern tradition in British journalism that states that supporters of the health service should belittle that military industrial complex. Innumerable articles have gone into print to condemn the price of war.Such articles are often accompanied by a price list for weapons. As the article progresses there is a predictable demand for a transfer of resources from military to health expenditure. In this article, however, I have set out not to belittle that military industrial complex but to admire it.
When the army demands a new tank, a British company immediately offers to develop the machine and sends an asking price to the Ministry of Defence. After a suitable delay, a political debate emerges and that debate is centred around the issue of cost.
In the course of that debate, the military industrial complex is unlikely to stand back and await the outcome. Representatives of the arms manufacturers will quickly come forward and fight their corner.
As they will remind us, every British weapons system is not merely an instrument of war, it is a potentially exportable product. Once a new tank is in operation, foreign governments can be persuaded to purchase the same machine.
Longer production runs achieve economies of scale and with the profits from an export contract ploughed back into the British economy, the overall cost of the product becomes much less severe.
This is not a fanciful argument. Last year Britain helped to arm over half the world's countries obtaining an astonishing 24 per cent share of the global market.
So successful has this industry become that the MoD and British weapons manufacturers have now developed a symbiotic relationship.
When the MoD demands an expensive weapons system, industry supplies it and the advertisement provided by the British armed forces paves the way for the lucrative export contracts that will finance further weapons research.
In contrast, British medical scientists rarely see themselves in such hard-nosed terms.
Obtaining funds for medical research has always had a lot more to do with begging than earning. …