What is NIHR Research Capability Funding?
NIHR Research Capability Funding (RCF) is allocated to research-active NHS organisations or NHS health care providers 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 the 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
- 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 parental or long-term sick leave), associated with research staff of NHS organisations hosting research within the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) portfolio
- Other individual staff employed to provide services and support to NIHR contracts where there is no additional funding.
Which organisations will receive NIHR RCF?
RCF is allocated annually based on the NIHR income received in the previous calendar 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 100 participants to research studies conducted through CRN during the previous reporting period of 1 October – 30 September.
However, the RCF allocation will be based on either NIHR income or 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. To qualify, an organisation must:
- be a statutory NHS Organisation or NHS health care provider in receipt of NIHR income;
- employ staff who do or support research;
- have recruited at least 100 participants to research studies conducted through CRN during the previous 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.
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, or the recruitment of at least 100 participants to research studies conducted through CRN during the previous reporting period of 1 October – 30 September. 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 2023-24 are based on an overall RCF budget of £45.1m.
Income based RCF
The overall value of the income-based element of RCF in 2023-24 is £41.1m.
We have maintained the 2022-23 weighting for Programme income and continued to include an RCF weighting for NIHR COVID-19 programmes.
Weightings and total values used for the 2023-24 allocations are as follows:
|2022 calendar year income for calculating RCF 2023-24
|Basis for calculation
|2023-24 share of RCF funding
|per £ of funding
|per £ of funding
|per £ of funding
|per £ of funding
|Senior Investigators (in post on 1 April 2019)
(Final SI remaining)
|Recruitment only RCF
|Total income based RCF
|Total RCF Budget
Recruitment based RCF
The overall value of the recruitment-based element of RCF in 2023-24 is £4m.
Previously, organisations have been eligible for recruitment based RCF where they have recruited at least 500 participants to non-commercial studies conducted through the NIHR-Clinical Research Network, during the previous CRN reporting period of 1 October - 30 September. Changes have been made to recruitment based RCF as follows:
- In order to ensure as broader a range of research-active organisations as possible can benefit from RCF funding, we have lowered the eligibility threshold to 100 participants.
- NIHR funding and policies support equal prioritisation of commercial and non-commercial research in the NHS. Therefore, going forward, commercial recruitment will count towards organisations meeting the threshold of 100 participants.
- We have increased the recruitment-based allocation from £20k to £25k.
RCF for ICBs’ recruitment
This year, in recognition of previous CCG mergers and to end previous interim arrangements, we have introduced an additional RCF recruitment banding which will award £50k to any ICB with over 2,000 participants.
Research Recovery and Reset
This year, to further incentivise organisations to meet their targets, there is an additional payment available for those NHS organisations that achieve the target of delivery of 80% of commercial contract studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio on track by the data cut on July 21st 2023. This is in line with the overall target for Reset.
Update August 2023 - The Research Reset programme achieved its aim of 80% of all open studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio delivering on time and to target by the end of June 2023. Commercial studies are delivering at an even better rate, with 83% delivering on time and to target. Details of NHS Organisations reset payments can be found in the Documents section on the main RCF Webpage.
The aim is for reset payments to be made alongside RCF payments in September.
See Research Reset for more information.
As outlined in the reset guidance, payments for commercial studies delivered in a Primary Care setting will be made to Integrated Care Boards (ICBs). We expect payments to be passed on to the relevant Primary Care organisation/s that delivered the studies.
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.
Which NIHR programmes are eligible to attract RCF?
All NIHR programmes where the Funding Agreement is held by an NHS organisation in England 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.
- NIHR Fellowships do not attract RCF.
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 individual's time, where their salaries are met in-full or in-part through NIHR funding and/or are NIHR Academy members, which is not covered by other funding sources.
- Salary costs of new staff, employed through an NIHR infrastructure award, 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 individuals whose salaries are met in-full or in-part through NIHR funding and/or are NIHR academy members, who are ‘between grants’.
- The time of individuals supported by NIHR funding 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 individuals whose salaries are met in-full or in-part through NIHR funding and/or are NIHR Academy 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. 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 individuals supported by NIHR funding in preparing grant proposals.
- The net costs incurred by a host organisation in meeting the salary of an individual supported by NIHR, while on parental 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 parental, 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. 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.
- 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?
NHS organisations in receipt of NIHR income based RCF are also expected to use the funding strategically in support of their R&D strategy; it can facilitate success in attracting NIHR research grants and other funding, leading to future allocation of RCF – a virtuous circle.
Some NHS organisations that receive recruitment based RCF may not possess a formal R&D strategy, but they should still use the allocation in line with this guidance. For ICBs in receipt of recruitment based RCF, this will usually mean that the best use of the RCF allocation is to support and maintain research capacity at general practice level.
Did RCF change in 2018?
Following the 2018 review, the RCF rating for NIHR infrastructure funding was gradually reduced to approximately 10% of its 2018-19 value over a 5-year period, and organisations no longer receive RCF for NIHR Senior Investigators.
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.
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 parental 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 parental 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 parental/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) is unable to support a specific higher-degree student on parental 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, the key phrase in the guidance is
that RCF can be used to contribute towards the sponsorship and governance costs where these costs “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, 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.
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.
Can organisations or individuals apply to DHSC for RCF?
There is no central application process for RCF. 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.