policy

Survey aims to capture patient experience

Patients who have spent time in hospital in Canada will soon be asked to rate their experience as part of an effort by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) to document and improve patient care across Canada.

“CIHI has been really focused on health system performance reporting, and the kinds of things you need to measure in order to understand [it],” says Kira Leeb, CIHI’s director of health system performance. “Part of that is understanding the patient experience.” Read more in CMAJ.

 

In Canada, election results cheer scientists

Many Canadian scientists are celebrating the result of yesterday’s federal election, which saw Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defeated after nearly 10 years in power.

The center-left Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won an unexpected majority government, taking 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will form the opposition with 99 seats, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party fell to third place with just 44 seats.

“Many scientists will be pleased with the outcome,” says Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The Liberal party has a strong record in supporting science.” Read more in Science.

In Canada, science campaigns for attention from voters

Opponents of Prime Minister Stephen Harper try to make his record on research an issue in election.

Science is making a rare appearance in Canada’s election. As candidates make their last push before Election Day on 19 October, the nation’s leading opposition parties have taken aim at Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s science policies, which have alienated large segments of the nation’s scientific community.

Science policy isn’t a top concern for most voters in the election, which could send new members of Parliament and a new prime minister to Ottawa. But some research advocates hope the issue could move enough ballots to sway what appears to be a tight three-way race between Harper’s Conservatives, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Tom Mulcair, and the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau. “Science could be the sleeper issue,” says Kennedy Stewart, the NDP’s spokesman on science issues and a member of Parliament. Read more in Science (if you have a subscription).

Tight budgets complicate Canadian health research reforms

A major overhaul of the grant and peer review system at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is underway. But will finances and objections from researchers hamper plans?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) received some good news in the federal government’s pre-election budget this spring: a modest CAN$15 million increase in its $1 billion annual funding. But the extra cash comes with strings attached. The annual increases don’t begin until next year, and all of the new money is earmarked for specific programmes. $2 million is reserved for research on antimicrobial resistance, while the rest will go to the agency’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), which is focused on health-care efficiency and effectiveness. The budget for individual research grants has not been cut, but has failed to keep pace with inflation over the past several years. Read more in The Lancet.

Questions raised about whether compulsory licenses get best prices

The use of so-called ‘compulsory licenses’ by developing countries to obtain cheaper drugs for HIV and AIDS by circumventing patents has not been the best strategy for achieving the lowest prices over the past decade, a new study claims. Instead, the best prices were often obtained by countries that procured their drugs through voluntary negotiations, often facilitated by third parties such as UNICEF or the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Read more in Nature Medicine.

Qatar forges ahead with science vision

Brian Owens visited Qatar to see how the tiny Gulf state is working to become a world leader in health and life sciences research as part of its broader national vision for 2030.

Qatar might be small, but it has big ambitions in several realms, including science. The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is the organisation charged with delivering the country’s research plans along with the rest of its National Vision for 2030, which aims to modernise the state and develop a strong knowledge economy to keep the country going when natural gas reserves eventually run out. The Foundation is a semi-private non-profit organisation, set up in 1995 to help transform Qatar from a petro-state into a leader in education, research, and the arts. It is headed by Sheika Moza bint Nasser Al Missned, one of the wives of the former emir, who takes a strong personal interest in the Foundation’s work, according to those who work there. “She has a strong commitment to health care globally and locally”, says Egbert Schillings, chief executive of the World Innovation Summit for Health, which is held in Qatar’s capital Doha each February.

Health and life sciences is one of the four scientific priorities the Foundation is focused on to realise the national vision—alongside energy and water, cyber security, and environmental research—and some see it as the most important. “The life sciences are definitely where the accent is”, says Schillings. Read more in The Lancet.

Qatar is a research bonanza for foreigners

Qatar’s heavy investment in medical research is attracting Canadians.

For Kim Critchley, dean of the University of Calgary’s Qatar campus, the biggest advantage to doing research in the tiny Arabian Gulf country is clear: the availability of research funding.

“You have this large funding pool, and less competition to access funds,” she says. “Your chance of being funded is much higher than it is in Canada.” Read more in CMAJ.

Strategies to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals

New drugs that could eventually replace or reduce the use of antibiotics in animals are in development to help slow the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Imagine a farm with over 100,000 head of cattle, each one receiving daily low-dose antibiotics in their food or water, not to treat illness, but to make them put on weight faster.

In the United States, the total amount of antibiotics used in food-producing animals rose by 16% between 2009 and 2012, to 14.61 million kilograms per year, and there is a great deal of overlap between the drugs used in animals and those used in humans. The most recent data on human use in the United States, from 2011, shows that Americans used 3.5 million kilograms of antibiotics that year. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Scientists are citizens, too

One of the common themes at last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference in Halifax was the role of scientific evidence in policymaking, and specifically how scientists should go about providing it.

I was disappointed to hear several of the politicians and policymakers – and no small number of scientists – repeat the same tired mantra that researchers should just provide data, and keep their nose out of the politics. Read more on Science Borealis.

Anthrax and smallpox errors highlight gaps in US biosafety

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies are in the dock over serious lapses in their handling of dangerous pathogens.

A recent series of lapses in biosafety at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies shows that there is a serious problem with the way research into dangerous pathogens is regulated, according to biosafety experts.

Vickie Sutton, director of the Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, says such incidents are likely to continue unless there is a major overhaul of the regulatory structure. “The current situation is not even logical”, she says. “The CDC regulates work at universities and other agencies, but also itself. It’s the fox watching the chicken house.” Read more in The Lancet.