Nick Ross has long been committed to public policy on health and has been closely involved in bioethics, promoting evidence-based medicine and fostering transparent decision-making about healthcare spending. He is President of Healthwatch, an Honorary Fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons, a Life Member of the Royal Society of Medicine and a non-executive director of one of the UK’s largest NHS acute hospital groups (Imperial College Healthcare Trust).
He first became engaged with healthcare through membership of a consensus conference which was influential in changing breast cancer treatment. He championed explicit rationing in the NHS (Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, traces the foundation of NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – to a meeting in Ross’s home in the early 1990s) and he campaigns for honest debate about the trade-offs between different priorities and how they affect healthcare outcomes. He was a member of the NHS National Plan Taskforce, of the Clothier Committee which first authorised gene therapy in the UK, and of the subsequent Gene Therapy Advisory Committee which is now part of the National Research Ethics Service. He served for seven years on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, was a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences inquiry into the use of non-human primates in research, a Director of the Health Quality Service until it merged with Dr Foster, and Chairman of the Wales Cancer Bank Advisory Board.
He currently sits on the ethics board of the Royal College of Physicians and of Biobank UK, and the research steering committee of the Royal College of Surgeons. He co-founded HealthWatch which promotes evidence-based medicine and is involved in promoting medical research and especially clinical trials (see www.lindalliance.org), challenging orthodox and “alternative” treatments which cannot be shown to be effective, and advancing the cause of accountability and transparency in prioritising healthcare.
He coined the term “fair tests” which has been gaining favour as a straightforward and accessible name for randomised controlled trials. He has chaired many meetings for the BMA, DH and NHS as well as international meetings of specialist clinicians in varied fields such rheumatology, allergology, paediatric endocrinology and health informatics, and has been a guest at WISE, the world healthcare leadership forum in Doha.
In 2017-18, in the build-up to the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Ross brought together the UK’s leading healthcare and medical research groups leading to a joint initiative between the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust, the Health Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and he persuaded the BBC to commission a major report on the health of the NHS at 70. The report concluded that the NHS was among the fairest healthcare systems in the world but lagged behind many comparable countries in health outcomes. The initiative culminated in a live 90-minute show billed as the centrepiece of the BBC’s NHS coverage.
He also played a leading role in challenging the General Medical Council after it struck off Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a trainee paediatrician who failed to diagnose sepsis and who, as a result of the child’s death, was criminalised and subjected to racist and anti-Islamic abuse. He argued that criminal sanctions are always inappropriate where someone makes a genuine mistake (“We have enough people intending to do wrong without diluting the concept of a crime or squandering the heavily rationed resources available for investigation and prosecution”) and that the GMC endangered patient safety by promoting a blame culture rather than one of candour and learning.
In 1990 Ross was appointed to the Clothier Committee, a government inquiry into the ethics of the then novel concept of gene therapy. After its report in 1993, he was appointed to a new bioethics regulator, the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee.
From 1999 until 2006 Ross served on Britain’s foremost bioethics forum, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and was also a member of two inquires into the ethics of research involving non-human animals, one for the Nuffield Council which inspected animal labs in the UK and issued a report in 2005, and one for the Academy of Medical Sciences specifically on non-human primates which reported in 2006.
In 2004 he joined the Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine for the Royal College of Physicians, and is the longest-serving member. He also chaired the advisory board of the Wales Cancer Bank and is a member of the UK Stem Cell Foundation and the UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council.