The NIHR has a responsibility to demonstrate the value and impact of the research it funds and supports. Researchfish is a vital tool in our toolbox, collecting detailed information directly from NIHR-funded research and NIHR Academy award holders on the outputs, outcomes and impact of their NIHR awards. Other NIHR awards, including NIHR Infrastructure, report their outputs, outcomes and impacts through other mechanisms and are not included in this summary. Using Researchfish allows us to maintain a longer-term relationship with award holders and capture new developments and impacts arising from their research during and after award completion. The information gathered each year during the NIHR Researchfish submission is reported to both the public and the Government to demonstrate the need for further pioneering research for the benefit of patients, the public and the economy.
The NIHR is playing a critical role in funding, enabling and delivering research into COVID-19. We know 2020 has been an exceptional year as the world faces an unprecedented challenge in our efforts to tackle COVID-19. Our 2020 Researchfish data was submitted by our researchers in early March 2020, before the full lockdown was implemented, as such it represents outputs, outcomes and impacts largely from the pre-pandemic period.
Researchfish data informs the Making a difference stories we showcase on the NIHR’s Our impact web page and highlight through social media channels. We use Researchfish returns to populate information on the NIHR Journals Library and the NIHR’s Funding and Awards pages. It is used to inform responses to information requests and parliamentary questions, and in reporting to our stakeholders. We analyse Researchfish data as part of impact assessment exercises such as in understanding the mechanisms and pathways to impact in public health research funded by the NIHR, the 10 year evaluation of the EME Programme and the collaborative evaluation we are undertaking with Marie Curie using Researchfish data to assess the impact of our combined investment in palliative and end of life care research. You can find out more about the many ways in which we Researchfish data.
Why we assess impact
Formally assessing the impact of research provides us with data to support several important tasks:
- Improving accountability by improving reporting to the government, the public and other stakeholders.
- Enhancing the evidence base for the impact of applied health and care research, to better advocate for funding.
- Connecting impacts and new developments with the original research across time
- Helping the Government and NIHR understand how best to allocate resources.
- Highlighting potential avenues for continuous improvement and learning.
For a full review of the NIHR’s activities, see the NIHR Annual Report.
Impact assessment offers these benefits:
- better accountability
- ability to analyse
- evidence for allocation
- information for advocacy
- learning and continuous improvement
Our use of Researchfish
- NIHR has almost 12,000 personal and research awards in Researchfish, tracking information on the outputs, outcomes and impact of our funded research since 2012
- In 2020, 89.7% of awards expected to provide a submission did so combined, since 2012, these 12,000 awards have reported:
33,681 engagement activities
75.5% awards report involving patients and public
15,640 collaborations and partnerships
808 new datasets
6,730 influences on policy and practice
NIHR award holders have been providing evidence to Government reviews, inquiries, committees and forums informing policy and decision-makers, the NHS and life science sector of the latest evidence. Some serve as members of committees, others are participating in working groups and providing advice on best evidence to Government departments, service commissioners and health and care leaders, helping to turn better knowledge into better care.
By actively advising and contributing to clinical governance and influencing key health and care services, organisations and companies, our award holders ensure that future policy directions are informed by high quality research evidence.
Another productive way to maximise the usefulness of research is to participate in National consultations. NIHR award holders report preparing responses and contributing to such consultations to highlight challenges, suggest improvements and provide support to service planning and commissioning.
I sat on the panel for commissioning of Tier 2 weight management services in Devon for 2013-2014 and went on to advise Devon County Council Health and Wellbeing Board on the evaluation of the service.
Professor Colin Greaves, University of Exeter
The Scottish Immunisation Programme Epidemiology and Surveillance Group (SIPS) reference group assisted Health Protection Scotland in delivering the epidemiology and surveillance outputs and steering research developments that stemmed from the extension of Scottish immunisation programmes during the 2013-2016 period. The largest development saw the addition of 900,000 children aged 2-16 inclusive who annually received influenza vaccination in a phased introduction over three seasons. Other vaccine developments were the introduction of rotavirus vaccine for infants, shingles vaccine for elderly patients and the movement of the offer of one of the infant MenC vaccine doses to adolescents.
Colin Simpson, University of Edinburgh
How has our research influenced policy and practice since 2010?
The numbers of reported influences on policy and practice by type of influence:
1957 influences on training of practitioners or researchers.
1677 participations in an advisory committee or national consultation
1581 citations in policy documents, systematic reviews, clinical guidelines etc
950 memberships of guidance or guideline committee
302 gave evidence to a government review
252 Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter e.g. Ministry of Health
Our Researchfish data tells us where NIHR research findings have been influencing the development of practice, and our award holders report that they are doing this through:
- Local or national clinical guidelines – by presenting or submitting evidence to inform guideline development.
- Clinical reviews - to help inform and influence clinical practice.
- Policy documents - in proposals from public bodies and organisations which have subsequent impacts on health and care.
- Systematic reviews - updates to reviews of the current evidence base to inform policy and decision-making.
It is when research findings change the course of care or treatment that research really makes its impact on health and well-being. A crucial step in developing health and care practice is to ensure that findings from research inform guidelines and training information.
Our paper evaluating the cost-effectiveness of PrEP formed part of the evidence to the Scottish government and was used to develop the "Recommendations on HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)" in Scotland.
Dr Valentina Cambiano, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
Our data on the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of rehabilitation was cited in the WHO policy "Rehabilitation 2030 - a call for action". It has helped to make the case for provision of early intensive rehabilitation especially for highly dependent patients with very complex needs who would not have access to rehabilitation in many countries.
Professor Lynne Turner-Stokes, London North West Healthcare NHS Trust
The influence that up-to-date research has on education programmes run by Higher Education Institutions, and in training programmes for health care practitioners and researchers, is an important area of NIHR impact. In 2020 we were informed of 2,627 reported instances of our award holders feeding their findings directly into the education, training and professional development of others.
I am the joint lead and organiser on 2 modules for MSc Palliative Care at King’s College London, Lecturer and examiner for the MSc, and supervise 2 MSc students. This multidisciplinary MSc involving nurses, medical doctors, AHPs, social workers and chaplains, has improved the educational and skill level of the workforce.
Dr Sabrina Bajwah, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Keeping patients at the heart of research
Since 2016 NIHR award holders have been asked to describe how patients are involved in their research and to explain the difference it makes. We’ve worked closely with other funders to develop a common Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) question set for use in Researchfish. Twenty-two funders (including the NIHR) in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America and New Zealand now use this question set which was first introduced in 2018.
Researchfish data demonstrates how involving patients and the public in research can enhance the reach, quality and impact of research, and that involving people provides wider perspectives and opens new directions for future research.
Members of the public are helping to improve the relevance and quality of research questions; around 2,500 NIHR award holders told us that they had used input from individuals and groups to make sure they are asking the right research questions, whilst more than 3,000 reported that patients and the public had been involved in the design of their research. In 2020, just over 75% of all NIHR award holders whose project is either active or within the 5 year follow up period said they are involving patients and members of the public in their research. Of those undertaking a personal award (doctoral and above) 82% (including those based in the NIHR Infrastructure) involved patients or the public in their research from prioritising research questions, study design through to analysing and disseminating the results. Involving patients and the public in research is a requirement for NIHR, but in some cases patient and public involvement may not be applicable, for example if the award is focused on research method developments. And some awards do not directly fund research, but fund people.
We are seeing an increase in the number of award holders that have collaborated with patients and the public to support data analysis and interpretation, and in the write up, dissemination and implementation of research findings, but analysis of this data set across funders reflects what we have seen in the NIHR: that involvement in the early stages of research activities (such as identifying research questions, study design and development) is widespread, but involvement in the later stages of research (such as data analysis, writing up and sharing research findings) is still much less common practice.
What stage of research do patients and the public contribute to?
The numbers of reported involvements of patients and the public by type of involvement at each stage of the lifetime of the NIHR award are:
- Research design: 3144
- Prioritising research question: 2506
- Developing funding application: 2356
- Undertaking the research: 1552
- Management of the research: 1473
- Analysing and interpreting data: 966
- Writing up: 776
- Dissemination of findings: 1558
- Implementing findings: 523
- Other/not specified: 3253
NIHR award holders tell us that the main challenges surrounding PPI are finding the ‘right’ people to involve, and maintaining relationships and continuity over time. We are using this intelligence to continue to reflect and develop the ways we can better support NIHR award holders to involve people throughout their research.
I found the patient and public involvement of my research critical to the success of my project. I involved stakeholders early on in the project and was able to fund their participation in giving their comments on the research design, prioritisation of research questions and the process of the research for participants using my research budget. One of the many crucial changes that the PPI panel suggested was a 'check in' email to be sent to everyone who participated the next day. The wording of the email was shaped by the PPI panel and allowed me as a researcher to achieve a better connection with the participants than may have been possible without this input. The check in email also allowed me to manage risk more effectively and signpost those who were in need of further support. This design modification was so appreciated by the participants that we wrote up the results of the response to these emails in a paper that made specific recommendations for other researchers on conducting ethical online research with potentially vulnerable populations.
Professor Kirsten Smith, NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre
We completed a James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership in brain and spinal cord tumours in 2015. The JLA panel was a 50:50 split between professionals and charity/lay persons. PPI was embedded in the JLA PSP and PPI representatives from that group are now involved in the NIHR SRPG programme Grant. We have involved consumer groups to ensure that PPI was fundamental to the clinical research priorities and the SRPG. PPI underpins every aspect of this application, including a PPI co-applicant on the research team which has ensured that the research priorities are relevant and feasible. In the development of the proposal, the PPI co-applicant has informed the writing of lay summaries, engaging the public and patients in the clarification of the questions, developing the PPI strategy and by linking new NICE Guidance They will be involved in dissemination, through their global network for brain tumour patient and carer groups and through members of the brain tumour community to engage in advocacy, raise awareness and to share information.
Dr Robin Grant, Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust
PPI involvement has helped inform the study logic model - and the methods used to complete this exercise have in turn informed the training module that is an integral part of the intervention. All participants commented on how helpful and enjoyable an exercise this was. Without PPI involvement we would not have been able to quickly develop additional measures designed for this study. It is highly likely that we would have needed to pilot each measure - this would have been difficult to achieve within the timeframe and resources available to us. Data collection, prior to pausing the study due to COVID-19 was progressing smoothly and we have not encountered some of the difficulties anticipated prior to PPI involvement - we attribute this to the advice given regarding the presentation of measures. We plan to resume the study at the end of this month and are currently piloting an online recruitment and data collection process, again with PPI involvement.
Dr Louise Denne, University of Warwick
Working with others is key to interpreting the results of research, sharing research findings and working out how findings can be applied in practice. Analysis suggests that researchers who collaborate internationally are most likely to be impactful
Our Researchfish data shows that NIHR award holders are highly collaborative. Over 63.3% of reported collaborations are with partners based in the UK, but there is also strong global collaboration, where 162 award holders have provided information about collaborations across more than one continent, further extending the potential for greater dissemination and impact with NIHR research.
NIHR reported international collaborations
Numbers of reported NIHR partner collaborations by continent are:
United Kingdom: 9895
North America: 1147
South America: 69
The benefits we have gained from collaborations include:
- Sharing and disseminating research findings.
- Reinforcing existing collaborations and developing new partnerships for future work.
- Sharing information used in business cases for commissioning and developing new services.
- Informing education and training programmes and promoting good practice amongst peers.
I was co-Principal Investigator on this Gilead Investigator Initiated Award for a phase II RCT examining novel treatments for HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis, obtained during my clinical lectureship. I ran the study with colleagues at the collaborating African sites in Tanzania and Botswana, and collaborated on the PK/PD analyses. Gilead provided the drugs for the trial. The study has now been completed and was presented as an oral presentation at CROI 2017 in Seattle. The manuscript has been published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The phase II study led directly onto a phase III trial, which has started recruiting in 2018 and is funded through a grant to me as PI through the EDCTP/Wellcome Trust/MRC/DFID for EUR 10 million.
Professor Joe Jarvis, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Investing in people
NIHR Academy introduced the Researchfish Career Tracker in 2016 to capture the career progression of NIHR Academy Members. These questions explore issues such as the experience of undertaking an NIHR award, how much time award holders spend on research and future career plans. Analysis of the information allows NIHR to develop its training and support programmes and track outcomes.
Trends in post award roles of NIHR Academy Members
The change in percentages of post award roles of NIHR Academy members between 2018 and 2020. Y-axis range 0% -40%.
Clinical Academic: 34% to 37%
Academic: 32% to 32%
Clinical: 28% to 26%
Other: 6% to 5%
For the 2020 submission period, over 1,300 award holders provided information in response to our Researchfish Career Tracker. Our analysis shows that 89.6% of those undertaking an NIHR Academy award are doing so as they wish to pursue or further their academic career, or because they wish to pursue a clinical academic career. In addition, 87% reported that they had achieved what they set out to by undertaking their NIHR Academy award.
Our Researchfish data shows that 69% of those who completed an NIHR Academy award remain in an academic or clinical academic role. Of those who return to clinical practice, only 26% are no longer involved in research.
My fellowship has cemented my ambition to become a successful clinical academic and given me the skills and opportunities to pursue this. During my fellowship, I completed a wide range of methodological and transferable skills training at my host institution and with international leaders giving me the specialist analytical expertise to complete my research and advanced analytical skills to carry forward into future research. I have recently been awarded an Emergency Medicine NIHR Clinical Lecturer position at the University of Sheffield. I hope to use this opportunity to complete post-doctoral research related to my fellowship and broaden my research interests whilst completing my clinical training in Emergency Medicine. My Fellowship has been key in giving me the skills, break from clinical training and qualifications necessary to transition to this next stage of clinical academia.
Dr Carl Marincowitz, University of Hull
The NIHR award has enabled me to develop my clinical academic leadership, I provide highly specialist knowledge as a senior clinician which in turn facilitates the ability to understand the future direction of research and innovation that is required to evolve the field of palliative nephrology. I have developed crucial research governance and organisation skills and developed the intellectual abilities, knowledge of standards and professionalism required to run multi-centre studies of epidemiology research. My award has enabled me to establish my clinical and academic reputation in the field, I have developed the knowledge and skills required to engage and influence and to maximise the impact of my research. I will now transition to a lecturing position combined with my NHS clinical role whilst continuing to spearhead development of the renal palliative care service and exert influence and provide advice to others nationally and internationally in terms of my research.
Dr Emma Murphy, University of Southampton
My NIHR award gave me protected research time and funding to complete a gold standard study. The flexibility NIHR offers with regards to maternity leave allowed me to have my two children and keep both my research and clinical work going.
Dr Rebecca Bromley, The University of Manchester
This award has been the highlight of my entire career as an NHS clinician and health researcher. It gave me the opportunity to put all that experience together and use it to influence NHS care. I have developed a method and intervention with real potential to influence post-injury psychological care. The study processes have involved engaging with multiple practitioners and patients and I feel we've all learned a great deal from each other on the way. The Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship invites people like me to be creative and experimental, through doing it I have learned an enormous range of skills, been able to lead research on a topic of importance to me and many others and have been able to test a new way of sharing knowledge and galvanising change. The study has had many tangible and diffuse outcomes on the patients, practitioners and researchers involved. I have developed multiple and diverse networks and hope to continue to work in this field.
Ms Kate Beckett, University of the West of England, Bristol
Generating new knowledge
Datasets and collections of data
Making research data available so that it can be effectively re-used by the scientific community benefits numerous research-related activities, such as reproducing analyses, testing secondary hypotheses, developing and evaluating novel research methods, design of future trials, meta-analyses, teaching, and by helping to prevent error, fraud and selective reporting.
The NIHR strongly supports the sharing of data in the most appropriate way, to help deliver research that maximises benefits to patients and the wider public, the health and care system, and which contributes to economic growth in the UK.
Information about data sets generated by NIHR awards and reported to us through Researchfish helps us to understand how they are being used to underpin research collaborations, facilitate further research activities, and to inform policy and guidelines.
The Risk II database is an anonymised database of patients admitted to adult critical care units (ICNARC Case Mix Programme) and patients experiencing an in-hospital cardiac arrest (ICNARC/Resuscitation Council UK National Cardiac Arrest Audit), linked to Hospital Episode Statistics, Civil registrations, UK Renal Registry, and National Adult Cardiac Surgery Audit data. The database is already being used to underpin an NIHR fellowship and a further NIHR HTA funded research project. We are in discussion with a number of other groups interested in accessing the data for further studies. Professor David Harrison, Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre
The group have used linked data to address multiple policy and clinical questions ranging from infection control to questions about whether to intervene before or after birth to reduce child mortality. This data is facilitating International comparisons of mortality, health care use and pregnancy outcomes in England, Scotland, Sweden and Ontario, comparisons for outcomes of teenage vs older pregnancies in 6 countries, comparisons of socioeconomic variability in waiting times for orchidopexy in 5 countries, and generalisability studies for PREVAIL and CATCH trials showing changes in risk adjusted infection rates over time across England.
Professor Ruth Gilbert, University College London
There is a steady growth in the number of publications reported to us. NIHR award holders share research findings with other academics through journal articles, conference abstracts and proceedings and writing book chapters. In the last ten years, a total of 63,936 publications have been published from NIHR awards reported in Researchfish, of which 88.9% are journal articles.
Data here is figures for the last 10 years - 2011-2020, total number of publications reported by year of publication (see chart below - with 2020 noted as the partial year as has been done in previous years.
Total reported publications by year
Increasing numbers of reported publications by year of publication, from 2011 to 2019, with partial figures for 2020:
Year 2011: 2351 publications
The NIHR supports the principle of Open Access to the outputs of research, which can offer both social and economic benefits, as well as aid the development of new research and stimulate wider economic growth of the UK economy. A review of NIHR's Open Access policy is currently underway - more information can be found at the NIHR Open Access Policy Review webpage.
Beyond academia, NIHR award holders publish a wide range of other materials including consultancy reports, policy briefings, technical reports and standards and working papers. Publications of different kinds capture the knowledge from NIHR funded research that can be shared in different formats to meet different stakeholder needs.
Reducing bureaucratic burden in research
NIHR works closely with other funders, including UKRI and AMRC charities, and HEIs to coordinate the activity surrounding the collection of outputs, outcomes and impacts with Researchfish. Recent developments have improved the interoperability between Researchfish and many different sources of information, greatly enriching the self-reported information provided in response to the common Researchfish questions with data harvested from other sources such as ORCID, Europe PMC, Crossref and DataCite, and reducing the manual input of information required by award holders.
Chief Analyst for Researchfish, Gavin Reddick, talks about the Researchfish “write once, read many” philosophy in this recent blog ‘Reducing the burden for researchers’.
Eighty-nine percent of publications that have resulted from NIHR awards reporting in Researchfish have been sourced from other systems by the automatic recognition of NIHR awards in funding acknowledgments. Use of the unique NIHR award reference in outputs greatly contributes to our award holders’ ability to take full advantage of the benefits of this harvesting capability, as it aids the automated identification of NIHR outputs most effectively.
NIHR researchers and NIHR-funded research organisations are strongly encouraged to get involved with the Researchfish submission process and shaping future developments through the Researchfish subgroups, if you’d like to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NIHR remains committed to ensuring that the submission process is as straightforward as possible. Visit the NIHR website to access our regularly updated guidance and downloadable resources. Contact the NIHR Researchfish team email@example.com for more support and information.
The next NIHR Researchfish submission window opens on 1st February 2021 and closes 4pm 11th March 2021.
This Digital Object Identifier (DOI) https://doi.org/10.3310/rfupdate-2020 provides a permanent link to this report and its metadata.