NIHR Blog

Professor Deborah Ashby, Imperial College London,  Chair of the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Commissioning Board and Deputy Chair of the HTA Programme

Turning wealth into health

Author:

Professor Deborah Ashby, Imperial College London,  Chair of the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Commissioning Board and Deputy Chair of the HTA Programme

Date: 31 July 2017

I really enjoyed maths at school, so carried on studying it at university. A summer job in the London Stock Exchange was great fun, but made me realise I didn’t fancy a career in accountancy or finance. Spending time working with money to generate wealth just seemed a bit dry and purposeless. By my final year I’d discovered statistics. Another summer job, this time in a research group looking at causes of heart disease, opened a door that I hadn’t known existed. I could use my skills to help find causes and treatments for disease, giving me fascinating intellectual challenges to a really worthwhile end. What didn’t dawn on me at the time was that research needs funding to sustain it, and that I would actually spend a large part of my career as an academic raising and juggling money to pay for the research I wanted to do...

I’m now in the privileged position of helping decide how research money should be spent. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded through the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Over the ten years or so since it was set up, it has developed a series of funding streams to answer questions about how treatments for patients can be improved.

One of these is the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, which focuses on what will change clinical practice. I chair its Commissioning Board which commissions research to answer the most important current questions. These might be questions that have arisen from previous research, or uncertainties in the development of NICE guidelines. They could come from patient groups, or even from individual clinicians or patients who realise that there might be a better way of approaching something. If you have an idea- send it in!

Those questions are put to an expert clinical panel to assess their importance to patients and the NHS. Prioritised questions are then sent out to the research community, so that research groups can bid for funding to answer them. The HTA Programme is also open to topics suggested by researchers.

The resulting research proposals are assessed carefully by one of our funding boards to decide whether the proposed project is going to be able to answer the question. We look at whether the research is well-designed and whether it is feasible. Have they thought through how they are going to recruit enough patients? Have they worked with patient groups to ensure it meets their needs, and takes into account their perspectives? Is the research team sufficiently experienced? Does it give value for money? We understand that doing research well is not easy, and takes a lot of time from people as well as other resources. We are, however, very mindful that this is public money – indeed the public’s wealth - we are spending.

So I have come full circle. I now spend quite a lot of my time thinking about money and finance. Wealth, used wisely, is what enables us to improve health, through research. And wealth is not just money- the real wealth we are able to draw on is the wealth of talent, ability and experience in the research community.

As well as funding research, NIHR also invests wisely to develop that talent and expertise. This includes internships to give the next generation the kind of “tasters” I got in my summer jobs, as well as a range of more senior fellowships. Through growing the wealth of talent to research emerging high-priority questions, NIHR can continue to meet its mission to improve both the health and wealth of the nation.

Professor Deborah Ashby, Imperial College London, Chair of the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Commissioning Board and Deputy Chair of the HTA Programme

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health.
  • Summary:
    Deborah Ashby writes about her role in helping the NIHR prioritise how research money is spent to improve the health and wealth of the nation. Her blog continues our #WeAreNIHR series.
  • Year:
    2017
  • Author:

    Professor Deborah Ashby, Imperial College London,  Chair of the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Commissioning Board and Deputy Chair of the HTA Programme

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