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Health Services Research specialty profile



Why you should deliver health services research in the UK

The National Health Service (NHS) is a highly rated health system. To achieve this, the NHS depends on high quality research to organise and deliver care to meet patient needs.

The UK has a unique research infrastructure to enable the timely set-up and delivery of health services research studies. The NIHR Clinical Research Network provides researchers with the practical support they need to make research happen in the NHS and the wider health and social care environment. As well as providing research delivery staff, we also bring together communities of clinical practice to provide national networks of research expertise. The Health Services Research Specialty is one of 30 such communities, made up of leading researchers nationally and locally. Our job is to ensure that the health services research studies we support are delivered to time and target.

We can provide:


We oversee research that deals with new ways of organising and delivering health services to improve access to care, enhance effectiveness, and make services more responsive to patient need.

We support a wide range of research studies, with particular focus on:

  • Patient safety
  • Patient experience
  • Policy, workforce and organisation of care
  • Implementation science

We work to promote the successful delivery of research studies in the NHS and social care settings and to help plan new studies that will address patients’ needs.

Access to patients

In 2018/19:

  • We recruited 115,450  participants across 221 studies in Health Services Research
  • Over 2,100 sites in England recruited to Health Services Research studies, including Ambulance Trusts
  • Over 92 per cent of acute trusts recruited a participant into Health Services Research studies
  • 100 per cent of commercial contract studies and 88 per cent of non-commercial studies recruited to time and target

We have supported a wide range of research including those:

  • Testing new ways of delivering high quality and safe care
  • Assessing how to better collect and use patient experience data
  • Exploring new ways of organising NHS and social care services to improve outcomes
  • Trying new ways to spread knowledge and evidence through health care services

Study delivery

Introducing innovations and new ways of working can be a challenge. We have expertise in how the NHS is organised, what data are available in the system, and how to deliver high quality research to test whether new services and ways of working are delivering good outcomes for patients.


We collaborate with a variety of groups supporting health services research, including Health Services Research UK.

We work closely with other parts of NIHR infrastructure, including organisations that fund and support applied health research.

Case studies

Nurse staffing requirements using the Safer Nursing Care Tool (patient safety)

Having enough staff with the right skills is critical for patient safety. This study used the SAFER Nursing Care Tool to assess patient need for care and see how it can be better matched to nurse staffing.

The study ran from 2016-2017 and the NIHR Clinical Research Network supported the recruitment of over 1,300 participants to time and target across four sites in England. We also provided support in optimising delivery and effective study set up via our Study Support Service.

Understanding how frontline staff use patient experience data (US-PEx) (patient experience)

NHS services need to ensure patients have a good experience of care. This study explored how frontline NHS teams use patient experience data they collect to improve quality of care. The NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) funded this study with support from the NIHR Clinical Research Network to recruit over 1,000 participants across six sites in England.

The LYNCs Study (policy, workforce and organisation of care)

Digital technology is key to transforming the NHS. This study evaluated how digital technology can be used to help better communication between young people with long term conditions and NHS staff to improve health outcomes. The NIHR Clinical Research Network supported the study, recruiting 355 participants across 15 sites. The study ran for two years and is now in follow up.

Knowledge leadership and early AHSNs (implementation science)

Academic Health Science Networks were set up by NHS England to encourage innovation. This study explored how senior managers in AHSNs shared knowledge across their networks to achieve change. The NIHR recruited 114 participants to time and target across 38 sites in England.

Find out more

Email the Health Services Research Specialty.

Contact us

Access our Study Support Service online or get in touch with the Study Support Service Helpdesk.