In 1983 almost £6.6 billion was spent on research and development in the United Kingdom. This sum was five times that recorded in 1972 and even when account is taken of the high levels of inflation experienced over the period, this increase still represents real growth of 28 per cent. The resources channelled into research and development now account for 2.55 per cent of gross domestic product and are approximately equivalent to combined central and local government spending on housing or consumer expenditure on tobacco (1983 data).

This present paper examines the state of research in Britain today. The analysis is first concerned with scientific research in general and then focuses on the specific issues that confront medicine. In the latter context the problems which beset the Medical Research Council and pharmaceutical research are considered in detail. The important role of the charities in financing medical research – projections indicate that funds from this source could soon overtake those supplied by the Medical Research Council – is also discussed. The final section of the paper raises a series of fundamental questions that need to be addressed – and resolved – if maximum benefit is to be derived from the increasingly scarce resources available for research endeavours.