Framework for Research Support Services

The Research Support Services (RSS) Framework

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government (2010 - 2015) published the Plan for Growth, in March 2011. It announced the launch of the NIHR Research Support Services (RSS) framework, a set of tools and guidelines to support a consistent and streamlined approach to managing health research studies in the NHS. The RSS framework was developed in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including senior R&D managers and investigators. The developers identified research processes that could be speeded up or simplified and devised working solutions to help overcome problems.

Who needs to know about the RSS framework and why

The RSS framework can help providers of NHS services to start research studies more efficiently. The framework is relevant for everyone who shares the Governments wish to see a dramatic and sustained improvement in the performance of providers of NHS services in initiating and delivering clinical research. The aim is to increase the number of patients who have the opportunity to participate in research and to enhance the nation’s attractiveness as a host for research. 

Using the framework starts with the chief executive or board agreeing and publishing a clear statement setting out the organisations capability to undertake research. Other tools can help NHS Trust R&D managers to speed up study processes and ensure they offer a more consistent approach for external sponsors and researchers. Importantly the framework promotes the concept of early collaboration by key people to ensure the efficient management of studies.

The RSS framework can help providers of NHS services to meet the 70 day benchmark in new NHS contracts for recruiting the first patient to clinical trials and to organise themselves to have the capacity to manage trials from end to end, helping them deliver to time and target.

Providers that use the framework can deploy NIHR Research Capability Funding to support development of R&D offices and, for research in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) portfolio, the costs of sponsorship and governance.   

The RSS tools are embedded within the processes of the NIHR Coordinated System for gaining NHS Permission (CSP) and described in the CSP manual.

How the framework can help  

It is based on four elements, which together provide:

  • transparency so that sponsors, investigators and partners know if undertaking a research study is likely to be feasible in the organisation and have a common understanding and agreement about the appropriate process for initiating that research
  • standardisation so that each study is managed using nationally recognised processes that are appropriate and consistent
  • pragmatism so that each study is managed according to regulatory and practical requirements
  • clarity about competencies that help R&D staff to take a pragmatic and proportionate approach to managing a study.

The four elements of the framework

  1. An Operational Capability Statement agreed at chief executive or Board level which sets out in a single document the capabilities and resources that are available in the organisation to support research. The statement should be kept current and published online so that it is publicly available to:
    • showcase the organisations’ commitment to research as core business and an important part of the organisations, service to patients, and to identify the types of research study it can undertake    
    • help sponsors of research and investigators to identify appropriate sites that will have the necessary infrastructure and experience to host the research (help is available for site identification through the Study Support Service provided by the NIHR Clinical Research Network)     
    • empower its staff to work effectively, giving clarity to the R&D team and all support departments about the organisations, research priorities as well as up to date information about the capability of other departments involved in research.
  2. Study planning tools, to be used by an experienced R&D manager when a study proposal is received to identify early and quickly any aspects of the study which may cause delay. The study planning tools can trigger research managers to make early and appropriate contact with other key people to ensure that the right information is considered at the right time and by the right people to speed up decision making and remove duplication of effort.
  3. Local Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to promote high standards and the RSS SOP guidelines to support R&D departments to ensure their local SOPs are effective and consistent with those elsewhere. The guidelines can be used to create new local SOPs where none exist, or they can be used as a review tool to check and/or improve existing local SOPs. This will help effective management of research, with everyone involved working to the same principles and procedures to ensure patients are protected, research is of high quality and processes are efficient.
  4. A framework of competencies for R&D staff that identifies the skills needed within the R&D office to manage research studies effectively. This can help managers take a structured approach to the recruitment, retention and training of staff and to the clarity with which roles in the R&D office are described.

Improvements that can be expected in an organisation using the RSS framework include:

  • A quicker and more consistent approach to managing research studies. 
  • A common and clear understanding of the role of research within the organisation and the roles of all departments involved in supporting that research.
  • A pro-active and pragmatic approach to research that is driven by chief executives and their senior teams. 
  • Proactive management that reduces timelines and embeds good practice.


Competencies for Research and Development staff

This set of practical competencies has been developed by a team of experienced NHS R&D managers who understand what an effective research support team needs to know, understand and be able to do, in order to provide an effective service for health research in an organisation.

The two documents can be used alongside each other and with local policies and information to help build knowledge, skills and personal development.