Bingham ‘bollocks’ blast at UK science leader bid

Thursday 1st September 2022 10:00 am
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FORMER vaccines czar Dame Kate Bingham has slammed the dismantling of a national Covid trials database, labelling as “bollocks” claims that Britain can become a “serious science superpower”.

The wife of South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman may have been made a dame for her role in leading Britain’s Covid vaccine task force, but she didn’t mince her words in an interview with The Observer.

Dame Kate claimed the database could be used for other vital medical research programmes and said its removal was “ridiculous” and “nuts”.

And she stormed: “All this talk about the UK becoming a serious science superpower is bollocks.

“These people don’t actually care. If you really want to make our clinical research strong, you don’t start dismantling what’s been put in place.”

Her angry response follows moves by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to insist that volunteers signed up to a national database of people willing to take part in medical research must now go through a complex, three-stage verification process to reapply to stay in the scheme.

The database was set up in spring 2020 so that the UK had a pool of volunteers who were ready and waiting to be enrolled in trials for new Covid vaccines.

“We got 550,000 people signed up, and about 50,000 of them were later used in 18 different vaccine trials for seven different companies. So it was incredibly effective,” she told The Observer.

Ninety four per cent of volunteers said they would be happy to take part in other non-Covid trials when they signed up.

“That created an enormously valuable resource for the nation,” added Dame Kate, who added that “bureaucracy has taken over again”.

“NIHR officials have come back to everybody on the database, and they have told them that they will have to re-register in a complex process which involves three separate steps and the exchange of verification emails.

“Only after that will previous volunteers be registered again.”

Dame Kate said she had tried the re-registration and found it complex and unhelpful.

“It’s just a monumental way of losing a lot of people from the database,” she said.

“They had half a million individuals who were willing to take part in all kinds of medical research projects.

“But there’s no way they are going to get that number of people signing up again. It is a complete waste…

“The problem is that civil servants are focused on process not outcome.

“There are simpler ways of keeping all those volunteers on the database without making them go through this complex re-registration.

“It is straightforward: we should be investing in research infrastructure, not taking it apart.”

She also told the Observer the UK was still “not out of the woods” over Covid.

“We need to continue testing and developing new formats and new approaches, and to be prepared for the new variants that are likely to appear over the coming months and years.

“So why lose this pool of people who have already said they’ll help. It just seems nuts.”

The NIHR said the new service “builds on learning from the Vaccine Registry and has improved functionality. It will also help support research into a whole variety of health conditions and treatments.”

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