Welcome to our new regular update on the BSI’s policy and public affairs work to highlight the programme of activities we undertake to advocate for immunological science and health to the Government, parliamentarians and policymakers.
Those of you who have read the article detailing our new Parliamentary Questions Programme will know that we have been suggesting questions for backbench MPs, whose interests overlap with the BSI’s policy agenda, to ask Government Ministers. At the time of writing, we’ve had a good level of success in parliamentarians taking this up in the first two months of activity. We’ve had 27 written questions tabled on our behalf to all four Government departments we were targeting, by 10 MPs, from five different political parties. These have been helpful almost without exception, either getting on the record that the Government is planning actions that align with our agenda or identifying an area requiring more scrutiny.
An example of the former was Chris Skidmore MP (Con, Kingswood), the Higher Education Minister, confirming to Bob Blackman MP (Con, Harrow East) that the Government would be seeking to increase the number of international students studying in the UK by over a third – to 600,000 by 2030, despite its retention of the net migration target. An example of the latter category has been a couple of responses to Rosie Cooper MP (Lab, West Lancashire) regarding the training of healthcare professionals on vaccines that don’t fully align with each other, and we plan to follow this up for clarification with the new Public Health Minister, Seema Kennedy MP (Con, South Ribble).
Our first success in oral questions came on 27 March when Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire) questioned Health and Social Care Secretary, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (Con, West Suffolk) with two of our suggested questions on the role that vaccines have in combating the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to antibiotics. In his answers, the Health Secretary commented that the Government is using vaccines as an integral part of its five-year action plan to tackle AMR and committed to ‘[providing] the money that is necessary’ to tackle AMR. You can watch the full exchange here.
Informing the debate
The next day, on 28 March, a Westminster Hall debate was held to discuss World TB Day and efforts to end tuberculosis globally. (A Westminster Hall debate occurs in the Commons’ lesser known secondary chamber and with the crucial difference that debates are led by backbenchers seeking ministerial responses on issues important to them, rather than the Government setting the agenda). The BSI prepared and distributed a briefing on the importance of funding research to develop a vaccine to protect against pulmonary TB in adults, and the contribution that drug-resistant TB is making to global AMR. We were pleased that a number of MPs used our briefing including Jim Fitzpatrick MP (Lab, Poplar and Limehouse) who namechecked the BSI, and Nic Dakin (Lab, Scunthorpe) who highlighted that TB hotspots exist here in the UK in London, Leicester, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry. You can read the full debate here.
Building our influence
Coming up, we have face-to-face meetings planned in May with Anne-Marie Morris MP (Con, Newton Abbot) who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medicines and Medical Devices and Chris Green MP (Con, Bolton West) who chairs the APPG on Medical Research and serves as Vice-Chair of the APPG for Life Sciences. We are hoping that these will be productive discussions around the challenges facing immunology today and will allow for the beginning of some fruitful working relationships.
Next on the agenda
The BSI is putting together a response to the recently announced Government consultation on ‘the design of UK funding schemes for international collaboration, innovation and curiosity driven blue skies research’, led by Professor Sir Adrian Smith. We will bring you more news on this in the next issue of Immunology News.
As always, we are keen for BSI members to get involved in our policy and public affairs work. If you wish to raise any issues that you have encountered with us, or if you want to write to your own MP but need some more information to get started, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Policy & Public Affairs Manager, British Society for Immunology