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Spain takes aim at better clinical research schemes

24/04/06


Doctors in Spain will be allowed to spend half their time on research

Doctors in Spain will be allowed to spend half their time on research

The Spanish Health Ministry has launched a program to boost the country’s research output. The scheme will allow physicians to give up some of their clinical responsibilities in order to focus on research, but some researchers say it’s only a bandage fix for a larger problem.

Most biomedical research in Spain is carried out in public hospitals. But because physicians have to devote most of their time to clinical duties, the scheme is an important step toward boosting translational research. «I’ve saluted the measure with enthusiasm since it opens a key door—the recognition of the research time of researchers with healthcare contracts,» says Josep M. Antó, director of the Barcelona Municipal Institute of Medical Research.

The measure opens a key door—the recognition of the research time of researchers with healthcare contracts.

Josep M. Antó
Barcelona Municipal Institute of Medical Research

Physicians who wanted to do research previously did so on their own time. The new scheme, launched in January, will primarily benefit those clinicians who are leading research projects funded by the health and science ministries, but will be expanded in the next few years. The health ministry’s Carlos III Health Institute (CHI), the primary funding agency for biomedical research, is expected to formalize the agreement with the regional health authorities.

Initially, 55 staff physicians with a PhD and a recognized research trajectory will be able to reduce their bedside time by one-half. The CHI plans to provide $1.7 million to the regional governments to cover the salary of substitute physicians.

But the scheme unfairly benefits only a small fraction of physician-scientists, says Rafael Molina, a clinical biochemist at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona. Molina says all physicians should be allowed to spend up to 25% of their time on research.

The new program «might create two categories of hospital physicians, with the ‘elite’ being represented by those engaged in research,» he says. Getting doctors involved in research may also affect their teaching duties, and further impoverish an already overburdened system, others caution.

Long-term solutions for improving Spain’s research will require the government to adopt radical reforms in the curriculum for medicine and other life sciences, says Antó, who notes that there is no model for a research-based career in Spain. «The problem seems to be deeply rooted,» he says.

Published online: 29 March 2006.

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