The Chief Scientist Office Festive Message 2023
20th December 2023
Euan Dick, Head of the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) reflects on advances made throughout 2023 and the vital role that our research, development, and innovation community continues to play in advancing healthcare
Looking back, it has been a demanding yet very productive year. Our community is doing incredible work to support NHS recovery, deliver better care for people in Scotland and develop a modern, sustainable healthcare system that is fit for the future. However, I’m very aware this work progresses in a climate of challenging public finances and ongoing pressures across the health and social care system, so I thank you all for your tenacity and commitment.
When we are busy it can be difficult to step back and acknowledge progress, but as I reflect over the last year, I have confidence that we are making positive progress. Indeed, if we reflect back to when the Chief Scientist Office was set up 50 years ago, the collective progress we have made is really quite staggering.
That was evident during Scotland’s Health Research and Innovation Conference in October, which celebrated our milestone anniversary; but more importantly gave our community a chance to come together again and showcase the strength and diversity of Scotland’s health research and innovation activity. I, for one, was really proud to see the difference our work has and continues to make – from exemplar work during COVID-19, to AI, Data, Precision Medicine, Clinical Trials, Patient and Public Involvement. We also took the opportunity to look forward to the next 50 years and enjoyed international reflections on Scotland’s strengths and opportunity for growth. It really demonstrated the impact that can be made when we bring together our expertise, infrastructure, and enthusiasm for change, as we look to a future filled with opportunities to advance healthcare. It was a packed programme, and we know not all got the opportunity to attend, so the full programme is now available to view online.
Looking to the future, the desire to accelerate improvements and optimise our capabilities in healthcare is a real shared endeavour.
Just last month, CSO welcomed the UK Government’s response to an independent review of commercial clinical trials. Led by Lord James O’Shaughnessy, the review set out 27 recommendations intended to deliver major, sustained growth in commercial trial activity in the UK and deliver benefits to our patients, NHS Scotland, and the economy. We also continue work with our partners to make the research system more efficient, including work on the National Contract Value Review, and have also been working with our partners across the devolved administrations to boost funding for researchers, resulting in the recent expansion of NIHR health and social care funding, plus a new £10 million funding programme focused on social care research.
This is positive in driving more research and creating opportunities for our community, and we remain committed to harnessing the talent and expertise we are so fortunate to have in Scotland. Our longstanding fellowship opportunities have been open to application throughout the throughout the year, and a new NHS Researcher Development Fellowship has opened this year. The CSO Innovation Academic Fellowship scheme, launched back in 2022, is also thriving with the first cohort undertaking an impressive range of projects encompassing AI, machine learning, 3D Telemedicine and augmented reality – and our second cohort will be recruited in the new year.
Our Networks and Specialty Groups also continue to deliver a wealth of trials across the portfolio.
The SCOT-HEART2 trial is determining the best way of preventing heart attacks. Already over 3000 patients are recruited with sites opened in Lothian, Fife, Forth Valley and soon Borders. Patients in Scotland are also among the first to take part in DETERMINE – the UK’s first national precision medicine trial for rare cancers; and PHADE - a diabetes trial led in Scotland, enabled the rapid CE marking of a medical device that is now used in Boots national pharmacy chain as part of UK-wide diabetes screening pilot; with the hope of improving rates of diagnosis for type 2 diabetes and enable those with pre-diabetes to more closely track their condition. Of course, this represents a fraction of the work across the portfolio and I extend my thanks to all the great work to attract and deliver important clinical trials across all therapy areas.
We were also really proud this year to see a new dementia awareness book launched, led by Partners in Research – the patient and public involvement group of NHS Research Scotland's (NRS) Neuroprogressive and Dementia Network. Through funding from CSO we have made this resource available as a free download, and will spotlight more great patient and public involvement work at a dedicated event in the new year.
As ever, our partnerships across the triple helix of NHS, industry and academia remain vital to our work, and have strengthened through 2023. This includes our partnership with Techscaler plus a range of open innovation challenges and small business research initiatives (SBRI) in areas as diverse as reducing drugs deaths, diabetes, medicines and dementia, innovating mental health services, skin cancer detection using AI, menopause, and eye health.
There is lots going on, and whilst we have largely emerged from arguably the most challenging time in CSO’s 50-year history – possibly even NHS history – healthcare does not stand still and our work in research, development and innovation is vital as we look to the future and recovery, reform and sustainability in health and social care.
For now, on behalf of CSO and the NRS Management Board, I thank you all for your incredible energy and endeavours across 2023 and wish you a very happy festive season.