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Use of NIHR Research Capability Funding in 2018-19




This report contains an analysis of research capability funding (RCF) spend and a sample of impact statements submitted by NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in receipt of RCF in 2018-19.

Numbers of reports received and financial reports

It is a condition of RCF funding that recipient organisations provide an annual report on how the funding has been used.

Table A - Numbers of reports, allocation and reported spend

Number of reports received (of 239 required)*


Total RCF allocation to Trusts and CCGs in 2018-19


Total reported spend in 2018-19


*As at 13/11/2019.

At the time of writing, one organisation had failed to provide a report on their 2018-19 £20,000 allocation. The reporting guidance clearly states that failure to provide a report in the correct format by the correct deadline may result in a financial penalty. This organisation will therefore be asked to pay back their 2018-19 allocation.

Table B - Breakdown of spend reported for 2018-19

Type of spendTotal sumProportion of total RCF spend
Spending on staff £54,978,527 81%
Spending on hosting research 
Accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management cost incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research £7,398180 12%
The cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office. £981,896 2%
Contributing towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio £3,500,732 5%
TOTAL RCF spend in 2018-19 £66,859,335 100%


Figure 1 - Total RCF spend 2018-19

This pie chart shows the proportional breakdown of RCF spend reported, with 81% being spent on staff, 12% on accommodation, finance and HR, 5% on sponsorship and governance costs, and 2% on training for R&D office staff.

Organisations must use their RCF allocation in-year. They cannot carry underspends forward into the following year, nor are they permitted to defer the income into later years. Organisations must make the Department of health and Social Care (DHSC) Science, Research and Evidence (SRE) directorate aware of any significant potential in-year underspends as soon as possible so that, where possible, appropriate remedial action can be taken (e.g. to stop payments or recover funding). Any over-spend must be met from the organisation’s own resources and should not be a charge on the following year’s allocation of RCF.

We are pleased that recipients have taken full advantage of RCF and have reported underspends of less than 0.121% overall (this figure includes underspends from non-reporters), while at the same time ensuring that RCF income is spent in year and not deferred. 

Analysis of 2018-19 RCF spend

In the following tables:

  • Table C shows numbers of posts supported;
  • Table D shows how these posts map to the eleven “RCF categories”; and 
  • Table E provides an analysis of staff supported from RCF by grade;
  • Table F shows the main NHS priority areas supported by RCF.

Differences between the totals in the tables are caused by missing data, i.e. staff not being attributed to an employer type, grade or RCF category.


Table C - Numbers of posts supported in 2018-19

Number of posts* 

No. of individuals**
Total number of NHS posts supported 1948
Total number of HEI posts supported 773
Total number of “other” posts supported 60
Total 2781
Maximum number of staff supported by a single organisation 149
Median number of staff supported 113
Mean number of staff supported 20

* It was not possible to report on whole time equivalent (WTE) this year as insufficient organisations provided a WTE figure. This will be addressed in next year’s reports
**Within organisations receiving over £20k RCF

Table D - How posts supported in 2018-19 map to the eleven “RCF categories”

RCF categoryNo. of individuals
The research-related component of an NIHR Faculty member’s salary, which is not covered by other funding sources. 887
The research-related time of NHS-employed scientific, administrative and secretarial staff who support Faculty members in their NIHR-related work. 543
The time of Faculty members in contributing to the wider research endeavour (e.g. membership of peer review panels). 284
Salary costs of new staff who are expected to be Faculty members, but who have not yet obtained funding from other NIHR sources. 224
Where the Trust is meeting RSS standards, contributing towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research adopted onto the NIHR CRN portfolio, where these costs are not met in other ways. 176
Meeting the cost of the time of Faculty members in preparing grant proposals. 163
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. 144
Meeting the accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management cost incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research, where these costs are associated with staff leading or undertaking research. 117
Salary costs of existing Faculty members who are ‘between grants’ 113
Not specified 97
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 RSS Framework 19
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. 14
Totals 2781


Figure 2 - Percentage of staff supported by RCF category


Table E - Analysis of staff supported from RCF by grade

GradeNo of
HEI Grade 1 0
HEI Grade 2 2
HEI Grade 3 7
HEI Grade 4 27
HEI Grade 5 47
HEI Grade 6 66
HEI Grade 7 115
HEI Grade 8 77
HEI Grade 9 25
HEI Grade 10 0
HEI Grade 11 0
HEI Grade 12 0
HEI Grade other 0
Professor 114
LA other 1
NHS Band 1 1
NHS Band 2 9
NHS Band 3 49
NHS Band 4 113
NHS Band 5 217
NHS Band 6 314
NHS Band 7 267
NHS Band 8 296
NHS Band 9 11
NHS other 144
Consultant  602
Specialist Registrar 52
Total 2781

Figure 3 - Main NHS priority areas supported by RCF


Examples of specific uses of RCF during 2018-19

NHS Trust/Foundation Trusts Impact Statements

Detail provided within organisations impact statements shows the significant difference RCF can provide and include the following selection of quotes: 

“(1) Support a number of additional staff to carry out research activities related to the CLARHC themes. This has contributed to the successful ARC bid which commences October 2019 (2) Enabled the trust to have an adequately resourced R&I Governance office, ensuring contracts and governance reviews are undertaken within the prescribed national guidelines. The R&I department continues to deliver its activities well and to meet targets set by the CRN. Funding also contributes to the support for the non-commercial contracting team and the performance/data management function (3) Provided PA support for research leads to undertake robust feasibility, review of research governance issues within their research delivery unit and provide support to new potential investigators when applying for their first external grants or fellowships. (4) Ensured dedicated R&I finance support for the many research ASTOX, CRN and RCF financial returns, as well as resource for NHS costings for grant applications and the financial management of grants held within the Trust. (5) The Trust continues to utilise its RCF allocation to support our overall agenda of increasing recruitment into NIHR portfolio studies and to support researchers in developing their protocols and funding applications.”

“RCF funding is of fundamental importance in growing the number of clinical researchers at our Trust, as well as other research capability and capacity within the NHS. To further support this, we have developed our team focusing on the preparation of research applications, particularly to the NIHR. There were 17 NIHR funded research projects active at in 2018/19. Around 78% of our research studies are adopted onto the NIHR Portfolio. Furthermore, ophthalmology is a very research active arena globally attracting large amounts of venture capital. We are ideally placed to build on current successes, having already created one spin-out company, with our partner UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, with further developments in the pipeline.”

“The 2018/19 RCF allocation was used in several ways to support the development and retention of key research staff across our Trust. These include RCF awards made to staff, allocated by a responsive model that is open to submission throughout the year. The awards were made to cover staff time to enable the development new research ideas into competitive NIHR grant applications. RCF monies were also allocated to develop areas of strategic importance, which this year included: continued funding for a research post to focus on preparing NIHR research grants in our Women and Children’s Health division (this has resulted in a successful RfPB and many other grants currently in submission or preparation), continued funding for a post to support and mentor nurses and AHP’s to lead their own research, with a focus on developing applications for NIHR TCC opportunities. This year five nurses and two speech and language therapists have applied for the pre-doctoral and doctoral fellowships, made possible with the support of RCF.”

“We feel immensely fortunate to have the RCF steam of funding as it has been critical to the growth of our research capacity across the community. It has allowed us to build partnerships with neighbouring HEIs, offer training and on-going mentorship to new and developing researchers, and to ensure that we can support colleagues to write new research grants. We are a small community and mental healthcare organisation, who have grown from doing no research in 2010 to being at the top of the NIHR league tables over the last three years and being recognised as a leading community Trust for research activity. We have a model where we share our RCF with external partners via a bidding process – this is to ensure sustainability of the fund, and that our Trust becomes a core research partner with academic organisations – this works very well and has enabled us to work together to continue to build an evidence base to keep people in or close to home.”

“It has enabled a Healthcare Assistant in OPD to train as a Research Healthcare Assistant with a view to becoming funded elsewhere after 12 months and develop into a Clinical Trial Practitioner, therefore impacting positively in future years.”

“The RCF money has enabled us to obtain an independent review of our research governance processes. We have now developed a CAPA plan in response to the review and are working on implementing the recommended changes. This will support and enable us to grow our future research activities.”

“Due to maternity and long-term sickness this funding has enabled us to continue to promote, conduct & develop the research portfolio within the trust.”

“The 2018/19 RCF income was used to fund key R&D staff who support clinicians and health professionals writing competitive research grant applications.”

Clinical Commission Groups Impact Statements

The following examples demonstrate a very positive outlook from Clinical Commissioning Groups and the importance they place on supporting research. The following are examples of how some CCGs have used the NIHR RCF funding.

“Aid longer term planning and deployment of Research Capability Funding (RCF) under the RCF scheme criteria. RCF applications from key University partners were invited and awards were considered by the CCG R&D panel according to RCF central guidance and the need to sustain NIHR research capability, taking account of track record and proposed forward plans for consolidation. RCF awards are largely linked to academic partners generating RCF income and support of senior investigators.”

“In broad terms RCF supported: NIHR Faculty members writing grants; people applying for Fellowships; new collaborations; retaining skills, time for generation of ideas. RCF supported research capacity and capability for example: academic GP time; senior trial management expertise; statistics expertise, CPRD expertise, data management expertise; health economics expertise; Public Health research capacity; NHS Blood and Transport expertise related to bioresource, biobank, linking data and use of anonymised data and translation activities.”

“RCF for 18/19 for a group of CCGs in our area was pooled, offering the greatest scope for research development. A commissioned call out was advertised out to Trusts and UEA in relation to older people and frailty. Funds were awarded to cover the time of 5 applicants to support the development of the following joint grants with UEA: HbA1c targets for Older People; improving carer support in COPD; Hospital deconditioning; Post-stroke fatigue in graded exercise therapy; and impact of intergenerational programmes on health and well-being.”

“Has enabled the CCG to support research through the engagement and collaboration of local GP networks. It is crucial to sustaining research interest and activity at GP practice level.”

“The funding has allowed us to increase our staff complement to ensure we can continue to recruit patients to NIHR portfolio studies. Our overall recruitment to NIHR portfolio studies has increased by 110% between 2016-17 and 2017-18 with over 1000 patients recruited to a number of NIHR studies.”

“The RCF funding has made a major contribution to the development of the research infrastructure in the CCG and in its Primary Care sites. We have appointed a research officer who is going out to practices to encourage and help them to take part in research. This is being used to cover the New Primary Care Networks and build their research infrastructure. We held a local meeting to promote practice involvement in research to aid infrastructure development. We have supported nurses gaining training in leadership to support research and general development.”

“This funding was distributed to the 10 general practices in the CCG area which had made most contribution to recruitment. One practice had recruited 480 patients to one study! Practices were sent a template to report on how their funding would be spent, and a briefing to give them ideas about building C&C in their practices. The funding is therefore to support an impact in practices; not for the CCG. The CRN are also informed of the expenditure and contribute through follow up in some practices.”

“This RCF has supported the academic time of a GP who has now secured an NIHR In-Practice Fellowship. It has also contributed to the support of academic time of another GP who is applying to the NIHR RfPB scheme. The research of both GPs will contribute to the CCGs evidence-based commissioning approach.”


Annex A – Ways in which Trusts gain benefit from their RCF allocation

After ten years of reporting on Flexibility and Sustainability Funding (FSF) and Research Capability Funding (RCF), organisations in receipt of RCF continue to be able to quantify benefits gained from their use of RCF either in terms of:

  • increased in research income;
  • an increase in the percentage of successful applications; or
  • an increase in numbers of research-active staff, across the organisation.

Organisations have provided specific examples of how RCF has been used to underpin their research portfolio and an increased number of organisations are tracking outcomes from use of RCF and the benefit it has provided across the health community (see section 4)

Developing research applications

Organisations can use RCF to encourage proactive development of grant applications and to help promote a research culture through supporting and working with local networks.

Support to develop grant applications can include such activities as undertaking literature searches, planning patient and public involvement and determining recruitment feasibility. Some organisations that have taken this approach are able to show that there is a higher likelihood of success for applications where RCF was used to support some aspect of the application’s development.

A number of CCGs in receipt of £20k allocations have continued to use the opportunity to develop RfPB applications targeted at local priorities.

Providing protected time for the research endeavour

Some organisations provide “fellowships” or “internships” funded competitively from RCF to provide salary for up to a year to allow the recipients to seek external grant funding related to a strategic programme of work. This is fine, provided the awards are not used to pay for training and the Trust is prepared to bear the risk from entering in to a relatively long-term commitment (other organisations might wish to consider setting up similar awards schemes, but for a shorter duration). 

Strategic use of RCF and distribution of RCF within the recipient organisation

Recipient organisations need to think strategically about use of RCF to support successful research programmes or to grow new programmes. RCF can be used to provide protected time for both experienced and new researchers and the balance between these two approaches is a matter for local strategic decision-making.

Where there is a Trust R&D Committee it is good practice for that Committee to approve the distribution of RCF within the organisation, this may (or may not) involve running a local RCF application process.

In some cases, Trusts allocate RCF broadly in-line with the research income of clinical directorates and this can also be a valid approach.

RCF remains a strategic fund for recipient organisations to use to support their local research strategy (within the terms of the funding agreement). There is no expectation on the part of DHSC that the use of RCF will be linked to the qualifying activity. However, we would suggest that organisations whose RCF is driven by NIHR infrastructure funding should generally make a significant proportion of their allocation available to support the relevant centre ? unless there is a higher priority formally set out in a local strategic plan.

Since 2018-19, organisations that were awarded an RCF allocation due to NIHR Senior Investigators (SIs) affiliation were specifically asked to ensure that their SIs had a say in, and access to, the use of that allocation (in line with the agreed uses of NIHR RCF). Given that NIHR SIs have a proven track record, the recipient organisation may judge that a good way of increasing its research income may be to use RCF to support the work of the SI concerned.

Following the 2018 review of RCF, host NHS organisations of SIs appointed from April 2020 onwards will no longer receive an associated £75k per SI per annum payment.

Working with partner organisations

RCF allows NHS organisations to obtain support from local HEI partner organisations and to strengthen existing partnerships.

Some organisations in receipt of the £20k minimum allocation have joined local consortia. This is a good approach provided:

  • A formal SLA is in place; and
  • The recipient organisation remains responsible for reporting on its individual RCF allocation

Training for R&D Office staff

A number of organisations value the ability to use RCF to provide training for R&D Office staff. This has helped organisations to meet CLRN targets for CSP activities. This specific use is the only permitted use of RCF for training.


Annex B - Legitimates use of RCF

The guidance, terms and permitted uses of RCF are available on the NIHR website.

Legitimate uses of RCF are to provide support to projects that cannot be met from other funding streams.

  • RCF can be used to meet the costs of a statistician’s time in helping to design a research study, but the provision of statistical support to an ongoing project should be costed into the funding application.
  • RCF can be used to support staff time, including administrative or scientific support staff, spent on a pilot study (excluding research costs), but only where there is a clear intention that this will lead to a substantive research application to NIHR or another peer-reviewed research programme.

In essence, RCF can help to provide an infrastructure that supports prospective researchers through the process of preparing their application and helping with study set-up (through the ability to use RCF to contribute to accommodation, finance or HR costs). 

  • RCF may not be used to pay research costs or NHS support costs as defined by AcoRD (and certainly not treatment costs).
  • RCF may not be used to fund “own account” research.
  • RCF should not be used to provide additional support for ongoing projects – this includes paying for time spent by research nurses in recruiting patients to trials. 

Examples of good and bad uses of RCF

Good uses:

  • To temporarily ring-fence consultant time to write grants.
  • Supporting applications for both NIHR project grant and infrastructure funding.
  • To develop research leadership groups (capable of designing and leading research bids).
  • To support collaborative working with partner organisations.
  • Paying for protected time for research in clinicians’ job plans.
  • Provision of administrative support to researchers to release time to be spent on preparing research applications, carrying out peer review, or otherwise supporting the organisation’s research activity (within the permissible uses of RCF as set out in the funding agreement).
  • Contributing to employment costs of specialist staff to help in preparing research applications e.g. providing statistical support for preparation of grant applications.
  • Building local research networks and collaborations to support applications for both commercial and non-commercial research funding.

Unacceptable, or questionable, uses of RCF: 

  • Continued support for a researcher’s time working on a project once external funding for that project has been secured, or providing additional staff time to work on an ongoing trial – research costs must be met in full by the funder, RCF cannot be used to top up project grant funding or to meet NHS Support costs.
  • To provide specialist staff to support the delivery of research e.g. a dedicated imaging coordinator or clinical trials pharmacist.
  • Dissemination of research outputs and findings.
  • Purchase of equipment.
  • To cover any shortfall in CLRN funding.
  • To deliver training in research methodology.