In this Q&A, Dr Martin Turner, Senior Policy Adviser at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), tells us about his work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Research.
What is the APPG on Medical Research and what is your role in it?
The APPG is a group of MPs and peers with an interest in medical research. There are hundreds of APPGs on a whole range of subjects, from Afghanistan to zoos. Ours provides a forum for parliamentarians to meet and discuss important issues in medical research, such as science funding, stem cell research, and barriers to clinical trials. Our meetings put research funders, scientists, clinicians, and patients face to face with parliamentarians.
I work for AMRC, which provides the secretariat to the group. So my role is planning the calendar of events, organising meetings, liaising with members, and making sure we comply with Parliament’s rules. Everything really! I’ve been doing it for about 2 years now and I really enjoy it.
How did the APPG get started?
It was established in 2005 by Lord Turnberg (the group’s Chair) with AMRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences, Cancer Research UK, the MRC and the Wellcome Trust. These organisations fund the group, along with Arthritis Research UK, which joined in 2012. We are also delighted to have just had the British Heart Foundation join as the seventh supporting member.
Since its inception, Lord Turnberg has been its Chair. Other officers are Lord Kakkar, Dr Julian Huppert MP and Lord Davies. All APPGs have 20 official members but we regularly engage a much wider audience of MPs and peers through our events.
What topics do your events cover?
We have about six or seven meetings a year in Parliament, including roundtable discussions, an Annual Dinner, and a Summer Reception, which is usually held every two years. Previous topics have included genomics and personalised medicine, animal research, and research in the NHS. The group is also very active in demonstrating the economic value of medical research and making the case for continued investment, which was the purpose of this year’s Summer Reception.
Although the group is funded by public and charitable organisations, we are always keen to showcase the contribution of industry to the UK medical research ecosystem and most of our events will feature a speaker from the private sector. The importance of collaboration is a central message that the group is keen to convey to parliamentarians.
The majority of our meetings are breakfast roundtables, which are a great opportunity to sit down for an hour and a half to have proper conversations with MPs and peers about important issues. These aren’t fleeting briefings but in-depth discussions where we can really get to the nub of an issue.
How engaged are parliamentarians in medical research issues?
I think there is growing awareness among politicians and government of the importance of the UK’s strength in science, and especially in medical research. Even so, there are a lot of demands on parliamentarians’ diary and there is only so much time they can give us. We have a core of about 25 MPs and peers who regularly come to our meetings to hear about the different issues we cover. But we also get new faces popping in to hear about specific topics. Through the five events we held last year we made 65 points of contact with MPs and peers, which is really good.
What’s next on the agenda?
2015 is going to be an exciting year. Of course there is the general election, which means lots of new MPs to engage with through the APPG. There may even be some new scientists walking the corridors of Westminster! And there is also the Comprehensive Spending Review on the horizon. The group will be keen to impress on the new government and parliamentarians the importance of continued investment in medical research, primarily through the MRC and NIHR budgets.
How can people find out more about the APPG and become involved?
The AMRC website has more details, including notes of the discussions and resources from previous meetings. You can also get in contact with me through a link on that page to suggest topics and speakers. We’re always looking for new ideas and are keen to hear from industry as well as people from the public and charity sectors.