'Failing the acid test' misses the point about the R&D support levy and its distribution.

Trusts were asked to give a statement of their costs in 1996, and on that basis a levy was made to reimburse the trusts for the research they carried out. The total costs came to about£350m.

Trusts' costs were calculated on what they spent on R&D. The government converted these costs into a budget , which has inevitably been regarded as a budget anyone can dip into. This is not possible unless the research costs are cut in the trusts accounting for much of the research expenditure.

A reduction of only 3 per cent in these trusts takes out of the NHS a disproportionately large amount of research. This is because the costs are embedded in the fabric of the institutions and in their staffing structures.

Neither can the skilled research staff be eliminated from one year to the next. To save 3 per cent means cutting 15-20 per cent of research programmes.

The 1997 bid for funds deliberately eschewed any question of research quality. We have no notion whether those people awarded money extracted from the large trusts have carried out research that is of the same quality or relevance as that which was being performed in those trusts.

The NHS R&D support levy has become yet another political battlefield in which one trust is pitted against another.

R Souhami, Research and development director, University College London Hospitals trust.