Medical research charities have lost nearly £300million since the start of the Covid pandemic, MPs were told today.
Experts fear the blackhole will threaten the development of future treatments for all diseases, including dementia and heart disease.
The Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents more than 150 non-profit organisations, has now appealed for emergency funding.
The group’s chief executive Hilary Reynolds said Government funding is needed to address the ‘Covid shadow on research’.
She made the appeal in front of Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee today, describing the funding shortage for charities as ‘a real and present emergency’.
Nearly a third of all research charities in the UK — which fund more than half of all medical research — have had to cancel new studies that ‘are crucial to finding new treatments’.
They have lost £292million in income over the last year, according to AMRC’s latest survey.
The body said this was mainly a result of shops being closed and public fund-raising events being cancelled.
The Association of Medical Research Charities chief executive Hilary Reynolds (left) said Government funding is needed to address the ‘Covid shadow on research’. Sir Adrian Smith (right), president of the Royal Society, raised concerns money for UK research could be used instead for Britain’s membership to Horizon Europe
Ms Reynolds said: ‘We’ve seen investment drop by £270million since the start of the pandemic and that translates into a range of things.
‘Most of our charities try to protect and honour existing commitments, that’s not been possible in all places. We’ve seen new grant rounds cancelled.
‘We’ve seen plans for early career researcher programmes and places delayed or dropped.
‘At the height of the lockdown, 70 per cent of our members’ clinical trials and study programmes were stopped, paused or delayed.’
Medical unions warn of NHS staffing crisis with 90,000 empty job posts
NHS unions are appealing for billions of pounds from the Government to hire more staff and stop a ‘chronic undersupply’ of health workers.
Leading medical organisations, including NHS Confederation and the British Medical Association, say there are nearly 90,000 empty job posts.
In an open letter warning to Boris Johnson, they warn there will be a ‘haemorrhaging of doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers’ if staff rosters aren’t filled up to ease the workload.
The Prime Minister last week pledged the NHS would get ‘all the funding it needs’ to get back on track after the Covid pandemic and No10 has promised to boost doctor and nurse numbers.
But critics say the Government has an ‘unwillingness to plan and invest in the health care workforce’ and caution the extra work staff have to do because of shortages will drive more to quit, leaving more vacant jobs and creating a ‘vicious circle’.
Specific roles aren’t named in the letter but the most recent NHS statistics showed that the biggest gaps are in nurses, midwives, health visitors and GPs.
The letter demands ‘billions of extra funding’ to tackle the issue, saying staff burnout and stress over the last year threatens to further increase vacancies.
Ms Reynolds said: ‘Most expect to have to cut their funding further in this coming year by over a third of what their strategies say [they need]. It is a real and present emergency.’
She called on the Government to provide emergency funding to cover the losses so that the charities can continue to fund they projects they have already committed to.
‘We know that funding will bounce back but we’re looking for temporary support to protect existing research and to enable new research to get going so that the long-term impact on careers, research and projects and treatments that can really bring hope are not damaged irreversibly,’ she said.
‘Let us avoid the long Covid shadow on research. There’s still time for the Government to offer that funding now.’
British research has been behind a host of the biggest Covid breakthroughs in the last year, including pioneering the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the new antiviral dexamathasome pill that can be taken to treat the illness.
Meanwhile, health chiefs bemoaned the Government’s lack of long-term vision for its membership to Horizon Europe.
The UK’s membership to Horizon — the EU’s main scientific funding programme with a budget of €95.5billion — costs around £1billion a year.
Its membership is vital to ensure British researchers are able to collaborate with their European counterparts on international projects.
But after leaving the union, the UK Government has had to shoulder the burden of membership instead of having it paid for out of the EU’s budget.
Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, had previously raised concerns some of this £1billion fee would be taken from existing funds reserved for domestic research.
The Department of Business announced a separate £250million of funding for Horizon’s membership, with the rest of the cash expected to fronted up by the rest of the year from sources other than British research funds.
But Sir Adrian described the Government’s move to shore up the membership with money coming from ‘somewhere or another’ as only a temporary relief from the issue.
He said: ‘It’s annoying. Reaching around the sofa isn’t really compatible with our aspiration to be a science superpower.’
More long term planning is needed to ensure Britain’s membership doesn’t come at the cost of funds earmarked for research in the UK, he suggested.
And Hetan Shah, the chief executive of the British Academy, urged the Government to lay out its strategy for coping with the membership fee increasing over the next few years.
He said: ‘We all need more transparency with this. I think even the billion figure is somewhat hypothetical that the scientific community is working off.
‘The payment for Horizon is backloaded rather than front loaded so it increases year on year, so I think we all need clarity on that.
‘But the sense we get from talking to officials is that this year we will get through it, but the uncertainty has just been put back a further year.
‘And the bill will get bigger as the years go by.’