Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

NIHR Commissioned Call: Specification Document COVID-19: Recovery and Learning


04 June 2020


1.0 June 20



The NIHR is inviting applications to better understand and manage the health and social care consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic beyond the acute phase. This call is an important part of NIHR’s response to provide high-quality and timely evidence to support system recovery and learning, specifically on health outcomes, public health, social care and health service delivery across the UK and to mitigate the impact of subsequent phases and aftermath. Given that this opportunity is for timely proposals, grants are expected to start within four weeks of award notification.

This is a UK-wide call involving all NIHR programmes with applications eligible from any UK-based institution regardless of the usual funding arrangements in relation to the Devolved Administrations. However, usual funding arrangements still apply to the NIHR Policy Research programme and NIHR Fellowships programme.

We welcome applications which involve investigators spanning a range of specialties and scientific disciplines that are in the remit of one or more of the participating research programmes.

Applications should be co-produced with service commissioners, providers and service users wherever appropriate to better ensure findings are of immediate utility in policy and practice. Applicants may wish to consult the NIHR guidance on co-producing research

Applicants are encouraged to study populations with a high disease burden and which have been historically under served by NIHR research activity. Special consideration should be given to inclusion of ethnic and socio-economic groups that appear to be at higher risk of COVID-19.

When deciding to apply please consider NIHR programmes' aim to support applied health and social care research, that lead to clear and identifiable benefits for patients and service users at an individual or population level. This means that successful applicants must demonstrate a clear pathway from their work to delivering significant improvements in outcomes for patients, service users or the way health and social care services are delivered in the UK. For this call we have further specified that delivery against this would usually need to occur within 24 months unless there are exceptional circumstances.

We are receiving many applications where the intention is to research and describe the impact of coronavirus on a specific patient group, but where the pathways to health and care service user benefit are not well described. While this sort of descriptive research is potentially useful, this is a very competitive call and it is likely to be deemed either out of remit of the NIHR programmes or lower priority than those applications where the pathway is clear and likely to be achieved.

Deadline for proposals

NIHR Research Programmes:
There are two deadlines for applications in the first instance. However, additional deadline dates may be added in due course depending on demand and the trajectory of the pandemic.

First closing date: Tuesday 23 June 2020 (1 pm)
Second closing date: Tuesday 14 July 2020 (1 pm)

NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP):
Please refer to the NIHR website for information regarding deadlines and the application process. Applications to the PRP must be submitted on the relevant application form

NIHR Fellowships Programme:
Further information is available on deadlines and the application process. 

Note the NIHR Fellowships Programme is currently open for applications with a further call in the autumn. Research Professorships will open in autumn.

Supporting information

In scope

  • Research proposals must have direct relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Applications are expected to measure outcomes typically within 24 months. Programmes of work with longer term outcomes will be considered, if the timescales are justified.
  • Innovative digital health, MedTech and Artificial Intelligence technologies to help the prevention, diagnosis, monitoring and management of the virus and related conditions.
  • The redesign and clinical testing of technology already rapidly repurposed for COVID-19 based on feedback from patients and clinicians and real world data.

Out of scope

  • Research questions that arise as a consequence of COVID-19 (non-COVID related care) such as learning from new practice (e.g. the impact of the shift to telehealth) are out of remit for this call and should be submitted to the researcher-led work stream of the relevant NIHR research programme. Note: this does not apply to the Policy Research Programme, please refer to the specification for more detail
  • Applications to undertake only baseline data collection are out of scope for this call and should be submitted through existing mechanisms such as the PHR rapid funding scheme

Themes of interest include but not limited to

  • Population Health
  • Mental Health, especially those that address one or more of the relevant research priorities highlighted in the ‘Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science’ Lancet 15 April 2020
  • Research to understand the sequelae of COVID-19 and their management including rehabilitation to aid the longer term recovery of COVID patients
  • Prevention and early diagnosis of conditions related to COVID-19
  • Social care solutions to ease pressure from NHS and get interventions into the community settings
  • Solutions to ensure social distancing
  • Direct consequences of innovation, including health and social care service and delivery transformation 
  • Research into the direct effects of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic measures e.g. mental and physical health consequences of social isolation
  • Impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities, learning disabilities, socially disadvantaged, rough sleepers, severe mental health problems, prison populations, BAME groups, migrants and travelling communities
  • Workforce specifically the implications on retention, recruitment, education and training and the effect of redeployment on morale, resilience and well-being.

How to apply

The following NIHR programmes are participating: 


  • Policy Research Programme (PRP)


Capacity Building:

  • NIHR Fellowships programme (NIHR Academy)
  • NIHR Research Professorships (NIHR Academy)

Please note that:
• For support developing applications, applicants are encouraged to contact their local NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) or equivalent in the first instance.
• Applicants may also wish to consider the existing NIHR portfolio to assist the development of their applications particularly with respect to programme remit and how the research addresses an explicit evidence gap.
• Applicants should also contact their local Clinical Research Network (CRN) or equivalent to ensure there is capacity to support delivery of the research.
• If you are planning a systematic review (rapid or otherwise) related to COVID-19, please be especially careful to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, as many reviews are already underway. Before applying, please check with the PROSPERO register. We encourage people planning and doing systematic reviews to collaborate rather than compete with each other. Applications will require justification showing the special contribution that the review will make, that it is not an unnecessary duplication of effort and that the work represents good value for money.
• If you are planning a clinical trial, it is critically important to include the relevant core outcome sets for COVID-19 as indicated on the COMET website.

Remit enquiries and general questions about the call should be addressed to:

Policy Research Programme:
NIHR research programmes:
NIHR Fellowships and Research Professorships programme:

Applicants should contact the relevant NIHR programme at an early stage if they require further guidance regarding eligibility for the call.