Your review of the R&D programme offered a useful and balanced report on its strengths and weaknesses so far.

What a pity your headline - 'Failing the acid test' - accentuated the negative rather than the positive aspects of the debate.

The current commitment to research funding and to evidence based policy-making is a strong and welcome contrast to the position in 1989, when the last major NHS reforms were launched and when ministers steadfastly refused to support any evaluation of their policies.

The work going into assessing the total purchasing projects, and about to start on other major initiatives, shows how far we have travelled in the last nine years.

There is clearly much to be done, especially in translating the results of research into practice, but surely the glass is half- full and not half-empty.

My contact with colleagues outside the UK is a constant reminder of how fortunate the research community in this country is in having a designated programme of activity to support its efforts to improve both policy and practice.

Professor Chris Ham, Director, Health services management centre, Birmingham University.