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NIHR Researchfish Update 2021


Published: 12 January 2022

Version: 2021

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The NIHR has a responsibility to demonstrate the value and impact of the research activities it funds and supports. To help us to build the cases that tell the stories of how NIHR funding is making a difference we use Researchfish to collect detailed information, directly from holders of NIHR-funded research and career development awards, about their outputs, outcomes and impact. 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.

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 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, and in programme evaluations including the recently published 10 year evaluation of the EME Programme. Read more about the many ways in which we use Researchfish data.

Researchfish is a vital tool in our toolbox; 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.

Our use of Researchfish

NIHR has 12,249 personal and research awards in Researchfish, tracking information on the outputs, outcomes and impact of our funded research
In 2021, 85.8% of awards expected to provide a submission did so despite the pressures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

NIHR began using Researchfish in 2012. During this time NIHR awards have reported:

  • 8,600 influences on policy and practice
  • 39,306 engagement activities
  • 73.3% awards report involving patients and public
  • 18,638 collaborations and partnerships
  • 808 new datasets 
  • 78,680 publications
  • 1,118 (88.4%) NIHR Academy award holders reported that they had achieved their ambition to pursue an academic/clinical academic career, achieving their main motivation for undertaking the award

Research during a pandemic

The NIHR continues to play a critical role in funding, enabling and delivering research into COVID-19 as well as working hard to maintain a diverse and active portfolio of research. We know that the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic have had a huge and varied impact on our research community. The data we are collecting in Researchfish is one of the sources of information NIHR can use to begin to understand what those impacts might be.

Our 2021 Researchfish submission took place in February - March 2021, during the height of a second significant wave of cases and hospitalisations in the UK. As such it represents outputs, outcomes and impacts that have been realised during the first year of the pandemic period.

Influencing policy

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 am co-author of Public Health England National Screening Committee's Childhood Vision Screening Resources and a member of the World Health Organization’s Package of Pediatric Interventions Development Group, helping to assist countries in making decisions on care interventions”.

Ameenat Lola Solebo, NIHR Clinician Scientist, University College, London
Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health
NIHR Fellowship Programme

“Delivering evidence as an invited witness to the enquiry on hospital care for people living with dementia and contributing to the Cross-Party Group report into Hospital Care for People living with dementia, which will be published in 2022. I am now a member of the Advisory Group on Dementia and the Dementia Partners National Steering Group to the Welsh Assembly Government. I have contributed the study research findings to the ongoing consultation and the impacts of Covid-19. I am also a member of the steering group developing and delivering the Dementia-Friendly Hospital Charter in Wales, which will set out a strategy for Wales to become a dementia-friendly nation (to be launched by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2022)”

Professor Katie Featherstone Director of the Geller Institute of Ageing and Memory, The Geller Institute of Ageing and Memory, University of West London
NIHR Health and Social Care Delivery Research programme

Ways in which NIHR award holders report influencing policy and practice

Numbers reported of different types of influence:

  • 2339 Citations in policy documents, systematic reviews, clinical guidelines etc
  • 2314 Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
  • 2038 Participation in an advisory committee or national consultation
  • 1204 Membership of guidance or guideline committee
  • 363 Gave evidence to a government review
  • 341 Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health

Influencing Practice

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.

“I have chaired a European task force developing and publishing evidence based reviews and guidelines for supporting adolescents with asthma and allergies.”

Professor Graham Roberts, Professor and Honorary Consultant Paediatrician in Paediatric Allergy and Respiratory Medicine, University of Southampton
NIHR Research for Patient Benefit

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 2021 we were informed of 2,314 reported instances of our award holders feeding their findings directly into the education, training and professional development of others.

“In my role as an Academic Clinical Fellow in Vascular Surgery and Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT) Yorkshire and Humber regional representative, I served on the teaching faculty for the 'Mastering the Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons MRCS' revision webinar. This event was opened up to surgical candidates worldwide including over 600 trainees”

Ryan Laloo, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow Vascular Surgery, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust
NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship

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. 19 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 4,625 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 3,608 (17.6%) reported that patients and the public had been involved in the design of their research. In 2021, just over 73% 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. 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. or in those awards that do not directly fund research but fund people.

Patient and public involvement tails off over the life cycle of the award, this same trend is seen in comparative data from other funders. In the early stages of research activities (such as identifying research questions, study design and development) patient and public involvement is widespread, but involvement in the later stages of research (such as data analysis, writing up and sharing research findings) is much less common practice.

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.

What have been the challenges of involving patients and the public in NIHR research?

Numbers of responses and challenges reported:

  • 1607 Maintaining relationships and continuity over time
  • 1477 Finding the 'right' people to involve
  • 1209 Concerns about how 'representative' views are
  • 1127 Small number of people or appropriate people are difficult to engage
  • 1095 Nature of condition can affect ability to be involved
  • 562 Lack of resources to support effective involvement
  • 553 Difficulty in finding appropriate ways to communicate and engage
  • 301 Other
  • 881 No challenges
  • 3285 Not recorded

“PPI has made an important difference in directing the systematic review I am currently undertaking into treatment adherence for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis amongst homeless populations. It has helped make sense of the literature we are encountering the screening stage, and will be a key part in synthesising and sense-making of data after extraction. It has helped to direct the important parts of interventions to assess in different studies attempting to improve adherence. It will also help to direct the key messages which need to be heard when writing up the review. Working with such an excluded/marginalised population, I believe PPI is absolutely key as a holistic step in empowering people and taking a step towards improving their health outcomes. Personally, as well, I have found it inspired me and helped me to see the importance and relevance of the research I am undertaking!”.

Dr Luke Johnson, Academic Clinical Fellow and Wessex Public Health Specialty Registrar, University of Southampton
NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship

“I can't stress how important it is to involve them at all stages - it is completely unreasonable to involve them only in large team meetings as they do not know the history of why decisions are made - they are being asked to provide input when working in an information vacuum. By having them involved throughout, they bring to meetings things that they have seen in the press that may be relevant to the research programme, they contribute ideas about practical issues from the patient perspective. CHARMER is actually a practitioner behaviour change intervention yet patients are still key as they are the ultimate recipients of whatever we do to practitioners. Thus far they have helped us design our survey for developing a core outcome set and are currently working with us to design co-design workshops - they will be working with the research team to facilitate the workshops. They are also members of our media working group (n=6 with two PPI members) which includes select members of the research team and patient/public members. They are of course doing the other traditional things such as helping us develop participant information leaflets for informed consent.”.

Professor Debi Bhattacharya, Professor of Behavioural Medicine, University of East Anglia
NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research

“As a researcher, PPI involvement has taught me that although having a good understanding of research methods is important in research, having the input of someone with the experience of the circumstances that one is researching, is just as important. Patients were able to offer an insight into the legibility of the questions covered in topic guides as well as information sheets. Patients also offered some ideas related to the topics to cover in interviews, and in some cases these topics were not originally included. Furthermore, in terms of my skills, PPI involvement has enabled me to develop a greater understanding of how to build effective relationships and trust with PPI members. Enthusiasm and passion for the research area appears to enhance these relationships. Further, directly interacting with PPI members has reminded me of the importance of the implications that research can contain. PPI members always expressed a need for this particular research and how this research could help future patients. This made me more motivated to achieve my research aims.”.

Dr Suzan Hassan, Research Fellow, University College London
NIHR School for Primary Care Research PhD Studentship Award

Global collaboration

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 62.6% of reported collaborations are with partners based in the UK, but there is also strong global collaboration, where 191 award holders have provided information about collaborations across more than one continent, further extending the potential for greater dissemination and impact with NIHR research.

Locations of collaborations with NIHR awards reported since 2012

Continents and count of collaborations there:

  • United Kingdom: 11,676
  • Europe: 2,464
  • North America: 1,365
  • Oceania: 463
  • Asia: 335
  • Africa: 161
  • South America: 87
  • Global: 191
  • Unknown: 1,895

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.

"The UK-ROX trial is coordinated by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) and we are working closely with the international MEGA-ROX trial team to enable all of our data to be combined when these trials are complete. Our aim is to determine whether conservative oxygen therapy (giving less additional oxygen) will improve the survival of mechanically ventilated adult patients admitted to NHS intensive care units (ICUs). Recruitment of patients began in May 2021 and we aim to enrol 16,500 patients from 100 ICUs to compare an intervention oxygen saturation target of 88-92% to standard care."

Professor Daniel Martin, Professor of Perioperative and Intensive Care Medicine, University of Plymouth
Health Technology Assessment Programme

“We have been collaborating with the WHO, both at headquarter level and at regional levels on viral hepatitis elimination strategies. My research has focused on combining clinical research, applied modelling and health economics in guiding public health policy towards viral hepatitis elimination. This has included modelling global targets for elimination, supporting the development of national hepatitis action plans, including the development of an investment case for scaling up antiviral treatment for Hepatitis B in China and performing research to inform WHO guidelines and technical consultations on the elimination of HBV mother-to-child transmission”.

Amanda Nayagam, Imperial College London
Academic Clinical Lectureship

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.

For the 2021 submission period, over 1,600 award holders provided information in response to our Researchfish Career Tracker. Our analysis shows that 89.5% 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, 88.4% reported that they had achieved what they set out to by undertaking their NIHR Academy award.

Our Researchfish data shows that 74% of those who completed an NIHR Academy award remain in an academic or clinical academic role. Of those who return to clinical practice, only 15.4% are no longer involved in research.

Changes in post award roles of NIHR Academy Members

Between 2019 and 2021, Clinical-academic roles increased from 37% to 41%; Academic roles increased from 30% to 34%; purely Clinical roles dropped from 27% to 21% and people in other roles post-award fell slightly from 6% to 5%.

"There were many benefits from undertaking the PCAF award and I'm not sure I can choose the 'greatest' as such. For me personally, I feel it has given me the space and knowledge to become a more independent, and confident researcher. It has reinforced that 'you don't know what you don't know' but more importantly has provided me with a network of clinical academics, and academics who I can contact to seek guidance from regarding the unknown. I have benefited greatly from the support of the clinical academic community, and gained confidence in myself as a leader, notably through offering support to others considering a clinical academic pathway. For my clinical-academic area of interest, the award has enabled me to host patient engagement groups, conduct a systematic review and early development work for a complex intervention, to collaborate with other clinicians and clinical-academics working in this field, and to disseminate my work through conferences, study days and written publications. All such opportunities will benefit my area of interest by highlighting the need for further research in this field, directing patient centered research and service delivery, and improving awareness of my clinical area of research. Overall, as a result of my improved clinical academic expertise and confidence, greater understanding of patient priorities, and international collaborations, I feel I can now support more robust patient centered research both locally and globally.’

Mrs Jen Butler, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
HEE/NIHR ICA Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship

"The NIHR fellowship has been an outstanding opportunity for my career development. It allowed me to undertake a research project that was based on my personal research interests and continuously supported me to reach the aims of the research project. Many of the things that I was able to do as part of fellowship would not have been possible without the financial support of NIHR. A particularly important part of the fellowship was the generous funding that was allocated to the training and development programme consisting of various courses. These courses helped me acquire new skills and kept me up-to-date with the most recent developments. This not only ensured the high-quality of the research undertaken but also led to further professional development and career progression."

Dr Elisavet Syriopoulou, Postdoctoral Researcher in Biostatistics, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship

"My NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship has been completely transformative to my research career and I thank the NIHR for supporting me in this. Ring fencing 75% of my time for research and training has allowed me to successfully conduct several high impact clinical trials, to form research collaborations with industry, to build capacity as the head of my new research group, and to become trained in a wide variety of new skills. The greatest benefit from the award has been the publication of results from my clinical trials in high impact scientific journals which have subsequently influenced national policy both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Dr Tristan william Clark, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases, University of Southampton
NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship

"The protected academic time alongside being a part of a well-published research group has been most beneficial. Without the protected academic time, I would not have been able to progress nearly as much as an early career researcher. Being involved with the MSK group locally has given me the support and guidance necessary to be successful with grant applications and has allowed me to develop my own research interests, becoming the PI of my current funded study. Without the NIHR award, achieving what I have achieved thus far would not have been possible."

Dr Jordan Tsigarides, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in Rheumatology, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship

"The NIHR clinical lectureship provides an unparalleled opportunity to perform dedicated biomedical research alongside clinical training. Thanks to this, I had the experimental time, during which I made a major discovery in an important metabolic pathway with ramifications for cancer and immunity. I have also been able to successfully complete my higher specialist training."< /p>

Mohammed Zaeem Cader, Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellow & Honorary Consultant Gastroenterologist, University of Cambridge, Cambridge & Weill-Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, New York
NIHR Clinical Lectureship

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. In 2021 42.3% of those reporting datasets or collections of data said that they had been provided to others.

“Working collaboratively with modellers at PENARC in Exeter we developed an open access model for commissioners and palliative care health professionals to calculate the additional resource needed to care for patients dying in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, syringe drivers, anticipatory medication and district nurses. The model is freely available and the values inputted can be varied to better reflect the local population (e.g. estimated number of deaths, changing rates of the pandemic).”.

Dr Charlotte Chamberlain (she/her) PHD, Consultant in Palliative Medicine University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, Honorary Senior Lecturer University of Bristol, Population Health Sciences, Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group, Accredited Consultant in Public Health
NIHR Clinical Lectureship

“The UK Medical Education Database (UKMED) is hosted by the GMC. I advised the GMC during its creation (e.g. on the potential advantages and drawbacks of using various 'safe haven' arrangements). I am a member of the UKMED research subgroup and have led on a project to test out the feasibility of using the database to answer important questions in medical education. In collaboration with the GMC, we (my team) assembled a dataset within UKMED which records a number of important outcomes, such as Fitness to Practise (FtP) processes, linking them to a range of educational and demographic variables. To date we have published our findings, from the UKMED, and related datasets, in over a dozen peer reviewed papers and are influencing policy relating to medical selection and regulation. We continue to analyse this dataset within the safe haven.”

Paul Tiffin, Professor of Health Services and Workforce Research and Honorary Consultant in the Psychiatry of Adolescence, University of York and Hull York Medical School
NIHR Career Development Fellowship


NIHR award holders share research findings targeted at other academics through journal articles, conference abstracts and proceedings and writing book chapters. There is a steady growth in the number of publications reported to us.which during the last ten years has seen a total of 63,936 outputs published from NIHR awards reported in Researchfish.

Number of publications reported by year of publication


Year and number of publications reported:

  • 2012: 3,825 publications 
  • 2013: 5,939 publications 
  • 2014: 6,864 publications 
  • 2015: 7,555 publications 
  • 2016: 8,514 publications 
  • 2017: 8,640 publications 
  • 2018: 9,011 publications 
  • 2019: 9,414 publications 
  • 2020: 9,713 publications 
  • 2021: 2,212 publications (so far)

During 2021 the NIHR announced its new Open Access policy, requiring all peer-reviewed research articles arising from NIHR-funded studies to be made immediately open access under an open licence. The policy aims to allow evidence from NIHR funded research to be freely accessed and used across the health and social care system, to empower patients and the public, and to drive further innovation globally. Based on extensive engagement with stakeholders, including members of the public, and review of evidence, the new policy will ensure that NIHR funded research findings are freely accessible, discoverable and reusable to all, including through Europe PMC.

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 a variety of formats to meet stakeholder needs.

Reducing unnecessary bureaucratic burden in research

NIHR has a number of workstreams underway to explore ways in which we can minimise unnecessary research bureaucracy, with the primary aim of freeing up the research community to concentrate on delivering the high-quality research that patients, the wider public and our economy needs.

NIHR works closely with other funders - including UKRI and AMRC charities - HEIs and research organisations to coordinate the activity surrounding the collection of outputs, outcomes and impacts with Researchfish, adopting a shared approach where feasible with a view to reducing the administrative burden of reporting as much as possible.

Ongoing developments continue to improve the interoperability between Researchfish and many different sources of information, enabling outputs data to be harvested from other sources such as ORCID, Europe PMC, Crossref, DataCite and GitHub, and greatly reducing the manual input of information required by award holders. 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. The majority of publications that are reported by NIHR awards holders in Researchfish are sourced from other systems by the automatic recognition of NIHR references in funding acknowledgments. And increasingly, outputs such as datasets, data models, software, web tools and applications and other technical products that are reported in Researchfish originate from another data source.

Get Involved

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

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 for more support and information.

The next NIHR Researchfish submission window opens on 7th February 2022 and closes 4pm 17th March 2022.