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HSDR remit, competitiveness and making a successful application


Published: 01 January 2020

Version: 1

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To be in the remit of the programme the research project must demonstrate:

A clear objective of improving health or wellbeing through better care.

This may be in the context of one or more of the following (all relating to how care is delivered or services organised, rather than to individual treatments):

  • Preventing avoidable mortality or morbidity
  • Improving quality of life
  • Improving the acceptability, experience and effectiveness of care
  • Improving the cost effectiveness of care
  • Improving equity of care

The focus is on how care is delivered or organised, rather than effectiveness of treatments on individuals. 

Studies are likely to include outcomes which are service-facing, such as length of stay or emergency admission rates, with impact on systems as well as individuals.

That the evidence generated will be of major and sustained strategic importance to the NHS and social care. 

Applications should provide evidence that patients and/or services want this evidence and that they will act on the study outcomes and that this interest will be sustained in the future (i.e. will still be relevant and useful by the time a study completes and beyond). This could include:

  • justifying how the research will lead to an improvement over existing ways of working;
  • demonstrating how the research is likely to impact on existing knowledge;
  • considering how the findings could be transferred to other contexts or conditions;
  • making sure you have discussed it with NHS professionals working in the area, and that you know what their research needs are;
  • analysing and describing the links to current NHS plans and strategies;
    demonstrating there is a gap in NHS knowledge around the proposed research question.

If you are responding to a commissioned call, you must make clear how your proposal addresses the requirements set out in the brief.

That the research has the potential to lead to changes in practice, knowledge or service delivery that will have a positive impact on a significant number of people across the UK.

Projects should demonstrate a pathway to impact and/or how the evidence will add to knowledge in useful ways.

That the research will be timely, responding to and anticipating key problems for decision-makers.

This will be demonstrated by active engagement with relevant stakeholders throughout the project development and delivery.

That the research has a clear focus on health and care systems, organisations and context of care. 

Typical interventions will be complex and should be informed by relevant evidence and understanding of organisational culture, workforce and other factors.

That the studies will advance understanding of social care services and systems, with a particular focus on adult social care.

The Programme encourages high quality social care and social work research evaluating new approaches with attention to the lived experience of service users.

That the research recognises the needs and experience of diverse communities and differential impact and outcomes of interventions. 

This includes particular attention to underserved communities and populations and active efforts to be inclusive in study design and focus.

That the research is likely to produce generalisable or transferable findings which are of value to the health and care community at a national level and can be used in decision-making to bring about change for the better  

  • Research taking place over a single site will not usually be funded
  • We expect results to be relevant to diverse areas and settings across the UK. The programme encourages studies which explore policy and practice differences in the four countries of the UK as natural experiments to further understanding of systems and services.
  • HSDR funds ambitious studies and is particularly keen to fund studies that show potential for their findings to be applied to other conditions or situations.


For an application to be competitive for HSDR funding it will need:

To bring together a team with strong expertise and track record.

This should include experts across the full range of relevant health services research disciplines, together with input from stakeholders such as frontline staff or commissioners to ensure the research is grounded in current practice and the outputs will have direct service utility. Make sure the team includes all relevant expertise – you may need to think about including clinical representatives, methodologists, economists, NHS managers, patient and public representatives and others. Their involvement should be at an appropriate level, whether part of a steering or advisory group or the research team.

The programme does not fund lone applicants or fellowship projects. Mentoring arrangements should be in place for less experienced investigators, who have relevant research experience but who have not previously led a substantive grant.

Ensure appropriate public involvement. Even if your proposal is technical in nature and opportunities for public involvement are not obvious, think about how the work affects or could affect patients and the public and identify ways of involving them.

The costs of the project to be reasonable and proportionate to the potential impact on health and care services.

The methodological approach taken to be justified and appropriate. 

The programme is not prescriptive about study designs and funds many different approaches. This will often include an appropriate theoretical framework which informs the study design and data collection and analysis. The programme encourages new and adaptive methodologies to address pressing social care and health services uncertainties in innovative ways.

Participation and location to be inclusive and determined by need, with attention to underserved communities.

The duration of the study to be sufficient to allow the research to be conducted to a high standard.

Additional areas to consider for writing a successful application

Assessing the problem to be investigated

  • Make sure you have identified the problem clearly and in detail before starting on further research into how to tackle it. This may be possible through a literature review, or may need some preliminary research.
  • Carry out a detailed review of the existing evidence. Ensure that you summarise this clearly in the proposal and that the proposed work builds on it.
  • Ensure that you know about all existing, relevant data sources. There may be data already collected that you can use, instead of collecting data afresh.

Planning your study 

  • HSDR funds research projects, not programmes of work or ongoing work. You must have clearly defined research questions.
  • Provide clearly defined objectives for your work. Describe how the planned methodology is likely to achieve these objectives.
  • Provide a clear description of your methodology and why you have chosen to use it – including at outline stage. Give as much detail as you can.
  • Provide a rationale for sample sizes (whether qualitative or quantitative). Explain why you chose this number and how it will lead to robust results. Provide power calculations where relevant.
  • Include a realistic data collection plan. You should consider the skills needed from the team, recruitment and timetabling, as appropriate.
  • Be clear about the study design you plan to use: for example, whether you are planning a trial, a pilot, a feasibility study or another type of research. Ensure the involvement of a Clinical Trials Unit for support where relevant, and use other sources of support (such as the RSS).
  • If your research involves an intervention, describe it as clearly as possible even if it is at the development stage.
  • Make a clear case for why your research offers value for money. Is there the potential for future cost savings in the NHS? Are there cheaper ways of getting the same results?
  • Define key terms clearly. Use plain English as far as possible – avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Ensure that your timetable is realistic to carry out the planned work. There should be flexibility to cope with unexpected problems.
  • Put suitable project management arrangements in place, including a designated project manager.
  • Refer to the How to apply for funding page on the website for other sources of information and advice.

A full record of all research supported by HSDR can be found on the NIHR Funding and Awards website