In his latest Budget speech, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, acknowledged the significant financial shortfalls being experienced by some National Health Service bodies, but pointed to record investment in the organisation since Labour came to power in 1997.

However, the comfort fell on deaf ears, as news of the fourth hospital to trim its staff in a bid counter growing debts emerged. The Royal Free Hospital in London said it was cutting 480 jobs and 100 beds in a bid to save £25 million, meaning that more than 2,000 jobs have now been slashed from NHS workforces in just one week.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown has also pledged to increase the country’s investment in health to “at least the European average share of gross domestic product” by 2007/8. This was mooted against the creation of a single health research fund of at least £1 billion per year for the NHS and Medical Research Council, with aims to simplify research funding and boost R&D support to mid-sized companies. Such organisations will also be helped by an enhanced R&D tax credit, full details of which are expected to be unveiled toward the end of the year, but include a doubling in the size of companies eligible for the maximum credit.

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has called for the government to commit to at least £1.3 billion to the single health research fund – the current combined allocation for the two organisations - and says it is “essential that this amalgamation does not put at risk the preclinical research base.”