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Research for Patient Benefit - a journey of 1,000 projects


Sue Ziebland is Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme Director and Professor of Medical Sociology in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. Here she reflects on reaching the milestone of 1,000 projects supported by NIHR’s RfPB funding programme.

It has taken 14 years, nearly 375 funding committees and many, many dedicated hours from research teams, Research Design Service (RDS) advisors, NIHR programme managers, reviewers and committee members to get to this point where I have the great pleasure of announcing that NIHR’s RfPB programme has funded our 1,000th project!

Focusing on patient benefit

RfPB has always had a distinct niche within NIHR.Working with funding panels based in eight regions of England and supporting research studies with budgets from £50,000 to £350,000, the programme has also been proud to have provided early career funding support to many successful researchers.  

While research capacity-building and maintaining a strong regional focus are both important to RfPB, what we are really committed to is funding research that contributes to improving people’s health and care. We support researchers, alongside patients and the public, to seek answers to questions that arise from daily practice in the NHS.  

We expect applicants to demonstrate the trajectory between their research and patient benefit. But we also want to offer support to developmental, methodological and more upstream projects that might be perceived as slightly more ‘risky’. These projects are welcomed within our Tier 3 (up to £150,000) studies that have proved very popular and successful for the programme. 

Supporting feasibility studies

While we welcome all research designs and topics, RfPB sees a lot of applications for feasibility studies. Keen to understand more about what happens after this investment, we reviewed the progression of all RfPB’s completed feasibility studies for an article published in 2018. Drawing on these findings, we have introduced enhanced support for our feasibility study researchers when their results support a full trial.  

Bespoke funding for social care research

While proposals to RfPB cover a wide range of health topics we did not often see applications for social care research. In 2018, RfPB launched the first social care research call from an NIHR programme and we worked with colleagues in the RDS to promote awareness of the call amongst social researchers in the regions. We were delighted to receive ample high quality proposals, twelve of which we approved for funding. We are now running an annual call for social care research, which is assessed by a panel of social care practitioners and researchers.

Funding 1,000 projects is a great milestone for the programme, the continued success of which owes much to my predecessors Professor David Armstrong and Professor Celia Davies as well as all the NIHR programme managers, the regional chairs, PPI and committee members and the researchers who persevere with their ideas until they succeed. We continue to welcome new ideas to improve our practice as a funder and to find ways to stimulate research where it is most needed. If you’ve got a research idea that you think might fit the programme do get in touch – you might just make it as the 1,100th.


It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which new project was the 1,000th to be funded - but the highlights below are close to that milestone.

DolPHIN 2 

This trial is led by Dr David Stephenson at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust. The trial followed on from an RfPB-funded feasibility study, and is investigating whether exercise can help increase muscle strength in boys with haemophilia. With the help of patients, their parents and physiotherapists, the researchers have developed an exercise programme designed to increase muscle strength. The trial will find out if the 12-week exercise routine can strengthen leg muscles and help with walking and other activities. 

Evaluating the use of levothyroxine treatment to reduce miscarriage in women with mild thyroid dysfunction 

This meta-analysis, funded through RfPB’s Tier 3 and led by early-career researcher Dr Rima Dhillon-Smith at Birmingham Womens' and Children's NHS Foundation Trust, is investigating whether levothyroxine treatment in women with mild thyroid dysfunction can reduce miscarriage rates and improve pregnancy outcomes. The researchers are combining the data from all the existing clinical trials which have included this subgroup to create a larger dataset and draw clearer conclusions to help guide clinical practice. The findings of this study will help to improve care in the UK and will be incorporated into national and international guidelines.

Anti-TNF (Adalimumab) injection for the treatment of adults with frozen shoulder

Led by ProfJagdeepNanchahal, this multi-centre feasibility study, based at Oxford, is to find out if it is possible to run a larger trial testing whether intra-articular injection ofadalimumab can reduce pain and improve function in people with early stage frozen shoulder. The condition can be debilitating and there are currently no treatments shown to have significant long-term benefits. 

Find out more about the Research for Patient Benefit programme and apply online.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.