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Q&A on the impact of COVID-19 on research funded or supported by NIHR



Did the NIHR pause non-COVID-19 research?

In March 2020, we supported the NHS by enabling clinical and academic health and care professionals funded by NIHR who were working on topics other than COVID-19 to return to clinical care where requested to do so by their employing organisations. We emphasised the importance of continuing studies if discontinuing them would have significant detrimental effects on the care of individual participants. This staff redeployment, together with the reduction in routine care services in the NHS, reduced the capacity for non-COVID-19 research. Recognising this, the NIHR Clinical Research Network decided to temporarily pause site set-up of all new or ongoing studies other than nationally prioritised urgent public health research into COVID-19.

Can studies that were paused now be restarted?

While our priority continues to be COVID-19 urgent public health research, we believe the time is right to work towards the restoration of a diverse and active portfolio of research funded and/or supported by the NIHR. To help initiate this process, we have developed a ‘Framework for restart’, which is a guidance document to support local decision-making.

Is NIHR monitoring which studies have been paused?

The Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre has been asking funders and sponsors of studies on the CPMS whether they were pausing entire studies. As of 4 May, 54% of commercial studies and 12% of non-commercial studies on the CRN portfolio had continued as planned. The Central Commissioning Facility Coordinating Centre is gathering information on studies paused within the broader NIHR infrastructure. NIHR Programme teams continue to monitor studies according to the established contract timetables and milestones. They will shortly be writing to award holders requesting information on the impact of COVID-19 on funded research studies which could have implications for viability, methdology and practicality of delivering against the original project objectives.

Have calls for funding and career development awards remained open or any new calls been made?

Yes. Urgent public health research into COVID-19 is the NIHR's top priority, but we recognise the importance of maintaining a balanced research pipeline. As a consequence, all NIHR funding and training schemes and calls have continued to be open for applications, and new calls have been launching weekly in line with existing scheme timetables. Where the commissioning process can be completed without detracting from urgent public health research into COVID-19 or frontline care, we contract for research using electronic signatures. Start-up may however be paused subject to local prioritisation.

Will organisations which hold NIHR contracts and have had to pause research be penalised?

No. In the short term, organisations that have had to pause NIHR funded research will continue to be paid in line with their existing payment schedules. This will be reviewed and payment schedules will be updated as usual following the annual statement of expenditure exercise, if contractors indicate that profiles need to change to reflect revised spending plans. NIHR will be sympathetic to extending contracts so that research paused or delayed because of COVID-19 has longer to deliver. Applications for funding to cover additional research costs due to contract extensions will be considered.

How will payments be made to trusts which are pausing research and diverting staff?

Organisations that pause research will continue to receive funding from DHSC/NIHR in line with processes which support existing payment schedules. If COVID-19 pressures continue for an extended period, the mechanisms of funding flows to organisations who are re-deploying staff may be revisited after further discussion between DHSC and NHSE/I.

What records need to be kept of financial flows in relation to paused NIHR contracts?

This has yet to be determined, but for NIHR funded studies, organisations holding NIHR awards should keep a record of the staff normally funded through the research contract who have been redeployed onto non-research activity and the duration of that redeployment (start and end dates) as this information will be needed to support subsequent consideration of requests to extend NIHR contract durations and for future finance reports. All non-research related additional costs associated with COVID-19 response should be discussed with NHSE/I regional teams.

How does the Government's furlough scheme impact on those in receipt of NIHR funding?

NIHR anticipates that all those in receipt of NIHR funding will follow the Government's published guidelines on furloughing. Only organisations which are not primarily funded through public grants or research contracts should consider claiming through the scheme, and only where staff would otherwise be made redundant.

We have delayed the start of our project, will we lose our funding as a result?

Funding will not be withdrawn as a result of delayed starts due to COVID-19. We will discuss contract variations for studies that have been forced to delay start on a case by case basis.

I have an NIHR career development award, where can I find advice about the impact of COVID-19 on my award?

Please refer to information on the NIHR Academy page

Are any changes being made to annual reporting cycles for NIHR infrastructure?

Yes. We will be postponing the full 2019/20 annual reporting exercise for the NIHR Infrastructure. When appropriate we will set a new deadline in consultation with Infrastructure Directors and Managers. We will however be asking the NIHR Infrastructure to provide some high-level preliminary data which we will ask to be updated when the full annual reporting exercise is completed at a later date. We have written directly to award holders to provide details of what this will entail.

Has any research activity funded through the NIHR Global Health Research programme been paused? 

As COVID-19 is a global pandemic, it is likely that NIHR-funded research taking place in low and middle income countries may be impacted or paused. Please contact the NIHR Centre managing your project or award if you need to discuss implications for delivery of your research. Communications from the NIHR have been sent via the contracted lead institution for onward sharing with low and middle income and other non-UK based partners.

I have a progress report or finance report due to be returned to the NIHR for my study or research training award. Are deadlines being extended for return of reports given the current situation?

Where NIHR studies or personal awards are being significantly impacted by COVID-19 we will not require routine monitoring reports until after the award has returned to the original contracted delivery. You should retain records relating to staff redeployment.  

I have not submitted to the recent Researchfish submission window. How do I submit now?

The 2020 Researchfish submission window has now closed.

Holders of NIHR awards with a contractual requirement to submit (this includes most awards with response codes 1 & 4) will be given a further opportunity to submit their information later this year, but this is currently on hold because of the expected impact of COVID-19 on our research community.  In the meantime, sanctions will not be applied.  You may, of course, continue to enter and edit information on the outputs, outcomes and impact of your NIHR-funded research in Researchfish at any time.

Are any changes being made to Performance in Initiating and Delivering (PID) submission and publication deadlines?

Yes. In light of the unprecedented efforts being made across the system to tackle COVID-19 we are postponing submission and publication deadline for the Performance in Initiating and Delivering (PID) Q4 reporting exercise. We will keep future reporting deadlines under review and when appropriate we will set a new deadline for reporting of all outstanding data in consultation with NHS R&D and NHS England and NHS Improvement.