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Our place in the UK research landscape

We have a central role in England's health and care research landscape. We work alongside other organisations that have an overarching aim to strengthen health research in the UK

Research funding in the UK nations

Each UK nation has its own government department that oversees health and care research:

  • The Department of Health and Social Care funds health and care research in England through the NIHR. It also supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK government international development funding.
  • Health and Care Research Wales is a national, multi-faceted, virtual organisation funded and overseen by the Welsh Government’s Research and Development Division. It provides an infrastructure to support and increase capacity in research and development (R&D), runs a range of responsive funding schemes and manages the NHS R&D funding allocation for Wales.
  • The Chief Scientist Office (CSO), part of the Scottish Government's Health and Social Care Directorate, supports and promotes high quality research aimed at improving the quality and cost effectiveness of services offered by NHS Scotland and securing lasting improvements to the health of the people of Scotland.
  • The Health and Social Care Public Health Agency (HSC PHA) is the major regional organisation for health protection in Northern Ireland. The agency has a mandate to protect public health, improve public health and social wellbeing, and reduce inequalities in health and social wellbeing.

Research in England

The NHS is committed, through the NHS Constitution, to the promotion, conduct and use of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population.  

The Department of Health and Social Care's Arm's Length Bodies (ALBs) include a range of organisations, such as NHS England, Public Health England, Higher Education England and regulatory bodies. ALBs each have specific responsibilities that relate to health, public health and social care research.

The Government's Office for Life Sciences champions research, innovation and the use of technology to transform health and care service. It published the government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences in 2011, with the ambition that the UK will become the global hub for life sciences research in the future and a key contributor to sustained economic growth. The strategy references the broad underpinning role the NIHR has in delivering this ambition.  

Each year the Research Councils, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), invest around £3 billion in research covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines, from the medical and biological sciences. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) now brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.  

The NIHR works closely with the Medical Research Council (MRC) in a number of areas, including jointly funding the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation and Methodology Research programmes.

We also jointly fund programmes of research with the Economic and Social Research Council, including investment for research on living well with dementia.  

Find out more about how we work with other funders.

Research assessment in the UK

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It aims to provide accountability for public investment in research and inform the allocation of research funding.

It is run by the four UK Higher Education funding bodies:

  • Research England
  • Scottish Funding Council
  • Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
  • Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland

Future research assessment

The four funding bodies are evaluating the role of the REF as part of the Future Research Assessment Programme.

The NIHR is mindful that any future research assessment system could greatly affect the research community we fund and support.

In May 2022, we responded to UKRI’s consultation on the design of the future system.

Our response provided feedback on the purposes of a future exercise, the principles that should guide its development and the assessment criteria and processes.

Our response was informed by our role as a research funder, our policies and builds on feedback collated from across the NIHR community.

Common themes identified in our response covered:

  • equality, diversity and inclusion
  • public engagement and involvement
  • research culture
  • collaboration and maximising impact
  • responsible valuation and learning culture
  • bureaucratic burden
  • research careers and capacity building
  • research integrity

Please contact us, if you wish to read our full consultation response.

Coordinating UK health research

The independent Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) works across the full range of national governments and relevant government departments, and health and care research funders, to address the barriers to research collaboration and to support the application and translation of basic research into patient care and economic benefit.