Research Capability Funding FAQs
What is NIHR Research Capability Funding?
NIHR Research Capability Funding (RCF) is allocated to research-active NHS organisations or NHS health care providers in receipt of NIHR income to enable them to maintain research capacity and capability. The funding stream:
- enables NHS organisations to meet some, or all of the research-related component of an NIHR Faculty member’s salary or their researchers and research support staff working on clinical and applied health research, where that component is not already provided by another funding source; and
- contributes towards:
- sponsorship and governance costs
- and accommodation, financial management, and human resource management costs (including net costs incurred by a host organisation in meeting the salary of an individual supported by NIHR, while on maternity, paternity or long-term sick leave), associated with research staff of NHS organisations hosting research within the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) portfolio.
Which organisations will receive NIHR RCF?
RCF is allocated annually based on the NIHR income received in the previous calendar year, and the number of NIHR Senior Investigators in post or appointed at the start of the new financial year.
Any organisation that does not qualify for the minimum allocation of RCF on the basis of its NIHR income can still receive an allocation if it recruited at least 500 patients to non-commercial clinical studies conducted through CRN during the previous CRN reporting period of 1 October – 30 September.
However, the RCF allocation will be based on either NIHR income or patient recruitment, not both.
How can an organisation qualify for and receive NIHR RCF?
NIHR RCF for an NHS organisation’s own use is based on the income the NHS organisation received from the NIHR during the previous calendar year, plus the number of Senior Investigators associated with the organisation in post on 1 April of the year in which the RCF allocation is made. To qualify, an organisation must:
- be a statutory NHS Organisation or NHS health care provider in receipt of NIHR income;
- be associated with at least one senior investigator in the current year, or have received NIHR funding other than RCF in the previous calendar year
- employ staff who do or support research;
- have recruited at least 500 patients to non-commercial clinical studies conducted through CRN during the previous CRN reporting period of 1 October – 30 September
Please note that the RCF allocation will be based on either NIHR income or patient recruitment, but not both (see also Which organisations will receive NIHR RCF?).
How much NIHR RCF will research active NHS organisations receive?
The amount allocated to each organisation for its own use is in proportion to the total amount of NIHR income the NHS organisation receives during the previous calendar year, and the number of senior investigators associated with the organisation in post or the recruitment of at least 500 patients to non-commercial clinical studies conducted through CRN during the previous CRN reporting period of 1 October – 30 September (see also Which organisations will receive NIHR RCF?). The amount given to individual organisations is announced each year prior to allocation and varies according to the income streams and circumstances.
The weightings in the RCF allocation formula vary routinely each year to adjust for changes in the level of overall qualifying income and ensure allocations are in line with the budget. This has always been a feature of this funding stream and should not create major problems for recipient organisations because most uses of RCF should be for relatively short-term funding.
RCF allocations for 2021-22 are based on an overall RCF budget of £51.2m.
Income based RCF
The overall value of the income-based element of RCF in 2021-22 is £40.6m.
As per 2020-21 RCF, the weightings for the Centres, Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs) and other infrastructure are different than the indicative weightings provided as part of the outcome of the RCF review in 2018 due to the increase in the level of overall qualifying NIHR income in 2020.
Weightings and total values used for the 2021-22 allocations are as follows:
|2020 calendar year income for calculating RCF 2021-22||Basis for calculation of RCF||2021-22 weighting||2021-22 share of RCF funding|
|Centres/ARCs||per £ of funding||0.046||£9.5m|
|Other Infrastructure||per £ of funding||0.034||£0.9m|
|Programmes||per £ of funding||0.280||£30.3m|
|Senior Investigators (in post on 1 April 2019)||per investigator||£75k||£7.3m|
|Recruitment only RCF||per organisation||£20k||£3.3m|
|Total income based RCF||£40.6m|
Despite pressure on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) Science, Research and Evidence (SRE) research programme budget, we have protected the RCF budget.
Recruitment based RCF
The overall value of the recruitment-based element of the RCF in 2021-22 is £3.3m.
The existing guidance is that organisations are eligible for recruitment based RCF where they have recruited at least 500 individuals to non-commercial studies conducted through the CRN, during the previous CRN reporting period of 1 October - 30 September.
Due to a number of COVID-19 impacts, we will additionally include organisations that meet the threshold during the previous financial year data period (1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020). In addition, for both data periods the threshold has been reduced to 400 recruits.
DHSC have also continued the 2020-21 policy whereby RCF allocations for Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will be calculated on the basis of CCGs in existence on 1 April 2019, so that where CCGs have merged after 1 April 2019, the new CCG will receive an RCF allocation that is the sum of the merging CCG allocations had they remained separate.
Is there a minimum amount of NIHR RCF that can be allocated to an NHS organisation?
Yes. This is a strategic fund, so DHSC will not allocate very small amounts of RCF. The current threshold allocation below which RCF payments will not be triggered is a nominal RCF allocation of £20k.
How will RCF be paid on the basis of recruitment to clinical trials be allocated?
All NIHR programmes where the Funding Agreement is held by an NHS organisation are eligible to attract RCF (mainly, but not limited to, NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research [PGfAR] and NIHR Research for Patient Benefit [RfPB]).
However, if the funding agreement is held by a higher education institution (HEI), then it will not attract RCF, even if an NHS organisation is working with the HEI. This means that NIHR funded research will either attract RCF or be eligible to attract Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) quality related (QR) funding, but not both.
- Funding from the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA), Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR), Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) and Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programmes can drive an NHS organisation’s RCF allocation, but only where the funding agreement is held by the NHS organisation in question.
- Funding from the NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) is also eligible to attract RCF if the funding agreement is held by an NHS organisation. However, as with HTA and HS&DR, PRP contracts are usually held by universities.
How can NIHR RCF be used?
RCF may be used to support the costs of some or all of the following:
- The research-related component of an NIHR Faculty member’s salary of their researchers and research support staff working on clinical and applied health research, which is not covered by other funding sources.
- Salary costs of new staff, who are expected to be Faculty members, but who have not yet obtained funding from other NIHR sources; this could, for example, include setting up short-term fellowships to allow clinicians time to use SPAs to work on research proposals.
- Salary costs of existing Faculty members who are ‘between grants’.
- The time of Faculty members in contributing to the wider research endeavour (e.g. membership of peer review panels).
- The research-related time of NHS-employed scientific, administrative and secretarial staff who support Faculty members in their NIHR-related work.
RCF may also be used to contribute towards the following costs:
- Meeting the accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research, where
these costs are associated with staff leading or undertaking research. Equivalent costs associated with staff supporting research led by others (‘support staff’) should be
met from core CRN funds. In the case of finance and human resource management costs, these costs must relate to dedicated and identifiable people providing these services.
- Meeting the cost of the time of Faculty members in preparing grant proposals.
- The net costs incurred by a host organisation in meeting the salary of an individual supported by NIHR, while on maternity, paternity or long-term sick leave, less any recoverable statutory pay that the employer is entitled to claim. RCF should only be used to fund the share of costs that relate to the proportion of a person’s WTE that NIHR meets through either a research grant or centre or infrastructure funding (NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks should cover this through core Local Clinical Research Network funding); or back filling key NIHR-grant funded posts left temporarily vacant during the award period by a member of staff taking maternity, paternity, or long-term sick leave, where absence will seriously compromise success of NIHR-funded research.
- The cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office, provided the Trust can demonstrate outcomes showing that the Trust is using the national standards, systems and operating procedures described in the NIHR Research Support Services (RSS) framework. RCF may also be used to train R&D Office staff so that the Trust can establish the base capability needed to begin to demonstrate such outcomes.
- Where the Trust is meeting RSS standards, contributing towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio, where these costs are not met in other ways.
What are the priorities for use of RCF?
The primary use of RCF is to help the NHS to retain research active staff, who are between grants, and support staff. The next call on RCF is to meet unfunded indirect costs of research. The recipient organisation also has discretion to meet other costs associated with the preparation of bids for research funding for the NIHR of its funding partners.
Can RCF be used to meet the costs of patient and public involvement in research?
RCF is not usually the most appropriate funding stream to meet the costs of patient and public involvement (PPI) in research; these costs must be met from research grant funding. RCF cannot be used as a substitute for grant funding; neither should it be used to pay for the public involvement activity itself.
However, RCF can be used to pay for staff time spent on preparing a research application, including that part of the application directly related to PPI, where there is no other grant funding to cover this. At the discretion of the recipient organisation, this could include paying the costs of working with patients and/or carers as part of the process of preparing a grant application.
Is there an expectation that RCF will be used to support the researchers whose projects attracted RCF?
Organisations in receipt of RCF are expected to use the allocation in accordance with a standard funding agreement, and in line with a local research strategy. Although the RCF allocation is based on NIHR income, there is no requirement to link use of RCF with the qualifying activity.
In respect of the £75,000 that is awarded to NIHR Senior Investigators, we expect that the SI will have a say in, and access to, its use, in line with the agreed uses of NIHR RCF.
Can a recipient of RCF choose to pass some of its RCF to another provider of NHS services or to an HEI partner?
Under some circumstances, an organisation in receipt of RCF can choose to pass some of its RCF to another Trust or to an HEI partner where this is in line with a local research
strategy. However, the original recipient organisation remains responsible for reporting to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the use of all the RCF it receives, including any passed to another organisation. It would also need to have a formal written agreement with the provider of NHS services or HEI concerned. For clarification:
- RCF may be used to support staff employed in a partner organisation where this is line with the Trust's research strategy and there is a formal written agreement in place with the organisation concerned.
- Organisations may only use their RCF to contribute towards other organisation's accommodation costs, finance management costs, HR management costs (amongst other costs) where these costs are incurred by an organisation providing NHS services.
How can RCF be used to meet costs associated with maternity/paternity or long-term sick leave?
Where a research grant is held by an NHS organisation (or the organisation is in receipt of NIHR centre or infrastructure funding) and a member of the research team goes on
long-term sick leave or maternity leave then the NHS organisation can use its RCF to pay the additional net costs incurred (or the cost of back-filling key NIHR- funded posts left temporarily vacant during the award period, where the absence will seriously compromise success of NIHR-funded research).
If the staff member concerned is employed by the HEI, then the NHS organisation can choose to use some of its RCF to pay for back-filling the post. In which case the research grant would be used to cover the pay of the individual on maternity/paternity/sick leave, with RCF used to cover the costs of back-filling posts.
However, it might also be reasonable for the NHS organisation to raise the issue of whether the HEI can contribute to these costs from their QR funding.
In general, RCF should only be used to contribute to this sort of cost where there is no other source of funding is available.
In addition, please note:
- RCF should only be used to fund the share of costs that relate to the proportion of a person’s WTE that NIHR meets through either a research grant or centre or infrastructure funding and it should only be used to contribute to this sort of cost where there is no other source of funding is available.
- If an organisation funded by NIHR under a fixed term contract (such as a BRC or BRU) is unable to support a specific higher-degree student on maternity/paternity leave, and their salary on return to work, beyond the end of the overarching contract, then RCF can be used to meet the relevant costs incurred by the employing organisation.
What Governance costs are eligible to be met from RCF?
NIHR already provides funding for a number of R&D systems, including NRES and the NIHR Coordinated System of gaining NHS permission. The key phrase in the guidance is
that RCF can be used for costs that “are not met in other ways”. Provided there is no other source of funding available then RCF can be used to contribute to the costs of sponsorship fees such as MHRA fees and CTA annual renewal fees, for example.
Is there a guideline on what would be an acceptable proportion of the RCF allocation to use to contribute towards the cost of hosting NIHR-supported research?
We are not issuing guidance on this point because of the wide variation in the amount of RCF allocations. However, see the question “What are the priorities for use of RCF?”.
Can RCF be used to support studentship awards, including MBAs and PhDs?
RCF is not intended to support MBAs or PhD studentships. We would therefore not expect RCF to be used to provide a bursary to a PhD student or to pay courses fees or to meet the costs of research associated with a PhD.
Can RCF be used for the protection and management of intellectual property arising from NIHR funded or supported activities?
Yes, RCF can be used for the protection and management of intellectual property (IP), provided there is no other source of funding available. For example, development of IP may sometimes be covered by the grant award. Furthermore, exploitation of IP should lead to income that should be used for the development of IP before using RCF. Thus, RCF can be used to identify and evaluate IP in terms of its commercial potential in income generation and/or NHS cost savings.
RCF can be used to protect IP and identify the correct pathway to help ensure patient benefit can be achieved by the appropriate mechanisms. Such primary work would
establish the routes to market, whether the IP was patentable or simple copyright, a new product or service, but would also identify who was best placed to ensure patient benefit and the type of return to the organisation.
Thereafter income from prior commercialisation (or other NHS or external sources) should be used to further develop and exploit the IP; the organisation should also consider whether their local Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) could offer a potential route for dissemination and adoption.
Who are NIHR Faculty Members?
- who conduct or support patient or people-based research and
- whose salary is funded, in part or in whole, from the NIHR Projects, Programmes, Centres or Units funding or who are funded through approved NIHR training programmes and
- who are employed by an NHS organisation, an English University, or a charitable organisation based in England.
If an NIHR Senior Investigator moves to another provider of NHS services, will this result in an automatic transfer of RCF?
No, we do not usually adjust RCF allocations in-year.
Is there a maximum time for which RCF may be used to support an individual?
The emphasis of RCF is on both flexibility and sustainability. It is therefore important that RCF is not used as if it were an alternative source of long term funding. However, we do expect RCF to be used strategically. So, while RCF will normally only be used for short term support, there may exceptionally be good reasons for supporting some posts for longer, provided this is consistent with one of the eligible uses of RCF funding. Such cases will need to be decided individually, and early engagement with the local R&D lead will be important.
NHS organisations receiving standard Research Capability Funding "must also comply with the requirements of the new Research Support Services Framework to continue to receive the funding".
What is DHSC’s expectation and/or definition is of being compliant with the Research Support Services Framework?
Under the Research Support Services Framework, Trusts will publish an R&D Operational Capability Statement that will demonstrate that the Trust meets appropriate governance standards to undertake research. Since RCF will continue to be driven by the organisation's research income, it will not be necessary for DHSC to check each Capability Statement before confirming the RCF allocation, but the information will be available should any concerns arise over an organisation's R&D performance.
Can organisations or individuals apply to DHSC for RCF?
There is no central application process for RCF. Standard RCF is an allocation made by DHSC to the NHS and it is for the recipient organisation to determine how to use its allocation (within the constraints of the permitted use of RCF and the local R&D strategy). Some organisations may operate an internal process for researchers to apply for RCF, but this is not necessarily the case.
Can RCF be used to cover redundancy payments for the NIHR element of a post?
Redundancy costs are the liability of the employer. RCF cannot be used to fund redundancy payments. It is up to employers to manage employee contract in such a way that they minimise their exposure to redundancy costs, but if redundancy costs are incurred they cannot be funded from RCF even if the employer is using RCF to cover employee costs in the short term.