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Use of NIHR Research Capability Funding in 2019-20


Published: 29 October 2021

Version: v1.0 - October 2021

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Section 1: Summary

NIHR Research Capability Funding (RCF) is allocated to research-active NHS bodies or NHS healthcare providers under one of two circumstances:

  • they received sufficient NIHR income during the previous calendar year to reach a threshold of £20k required to trigger an RCF allocation OR
  • they recruited at least 500 people per year to non-commercial studies conducted through the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN).

It is a condition of RCF funding that recipient organisations provide an annual report on how the funding has been used. This report contains an analysis of RCF spend allocated to NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in 2019-20, as well as a sample of impact statements submitted by organisations in receipt of RCF showing how they’ve used the funding and some examples of the ways in which RCF recipients gain benefit from their allocation.

Section 2: Analysis of recruitment based RCF spend

In 2019-20, 148 allocations of £20k amounting to £2,960,000 were issued to organisations that met the target of recruiting at least 500 people per year to non-commercial studies. Organisations reporting on this recruitment based RCF are only required to complete the finance table and do not need to complete a spreadsheet detailing staff supported by RCF.

Table A provides a summary of recruitment based RCF spend reported to NIHR by 131 of the 148 Trusts and CCGs allocated RCF in 2019-20 (any allocations paid but un-reported are refunded to the Department of Health and Social Care [DHSC]).

Table AAmount
Total recruitment based RCF allocation £2,960,000
Total reported recruitment based spend £2,620,000
Unclaimed/un-reported £340,000

The breakdown of recruitment based RCF spend reported for 2019-20 is shown in Table B and Figure 1.

Table BBreakdownAmountProportion of total spend
 Spending on staff  N/A  £2,113,516  71%
 Spending on hosting research    Accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research  £124,670  4%
 Cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office  £89,747  3%
 Contribution towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio  £292,067  10%
 No claim/unreported  N/A  £340,000  12%
 Totals   £2,620,000  100%

Section 3: Analysis of income based RCF spend

In 2019-20, 110 allocations amounting to £60,732,473 were issued to organisations eligible for RCF on the basis of eligible NIHR income received in the previous calendar year. Organisations reporting on this income based RCF are also required to complete the spreadsheet detailing the staff supported by RCF at their institution.

Table C provides a summary of income based RCF spend reported to NIHR by all 110 Trusts and CCGs in 2019-20.

Table CAmount 
Total NIHR income based RCF allocation  £60,732,473
Total reported NIHR income based spend  £60,651,620

To note, variance to allocation is due to underspends reported amounting to £79,461. Any underspends are clawed back by reducing RCF in the following year.

The breakdown of income based RCF spend reported for 2019-20 is shown in Table D and Figure 2.

Table DBreakdownAmountProportion of total spend
Spending on staff N/A £49,870,368 82%
Spending on hosting research Accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research £7,107,358 12%
Cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office £339,290 1%
Contribution towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio £3,334,603 5%
No claim/unreported N/A £79,461 0.0013%
Totals £60,731,080 100%

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 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 0.0013% overall whilst at the same time ensuring that RCF income is spent in year and not deferred.

Section 4: Breakdown of staff funded in whole or in part from RCF (income based RCF)

This section describes the number of individual staff and the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) posts supported in whole or in part by income based RCF in 2019-20.

Table E shows the maximum number of staff supported by RCF at a single organisation, along with the median and mean number of staff supported by organisations allocated RCF.

Table ENumber of individuals
Maximum number of staff supported by a single organisation 149
Median number of staff supported 9
Mean number of staff supported 24

The following tables show a breakdown of the number of staff supported by RCF in 2019-20:

  • Table F shows the numbers of posts supported according to type of post;
  • Table G and Figures 3 and 4 show how these posts map to the eleven ‘RCF categories’; and
  • Table H provides an analysis of staff by grade.

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. One FTE is equal to 1.

Table F: Type of staff posts supported by RCF

Type of postNumber of individualsNumber of FTEs
NHS 1869 703
Higher education institute (HEI) 731 338
‘Other’ 82 23
Totals 2682 1064

Table G: RCF-supported staff posts by RCF category

RCF categoryNumber of individualsIndividuals as proportion of totalNumber of FTEFTEs as proportion of total
Research-related component of an NIHR Faculty member’s salary, which is not covered by other funding sources. 717 27% 235 22%
Salary costs of new staff who are expected to be Faculty members, but who have not yet obtained funding from other NIHR sources. 216 8% 89 8%
Salary costs of existing Faculty members who are ‘between grants'. 176 7% 87 8%
The time of Faculty members in contributing to the wider research endeavour (e.g. membership of peer review panels). 182 7% 49 5%
The research-related time of NHS-employed scientific, administrative, and secretarial staff who support Faculty members in their NIHR-related work. 659 25% 284 27%
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 4% 59 6%
Meeting the cost of the time of Faculty members in preparing grant proposals. 206 8% 67 6%
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. 100 4% 54 5%
Cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office. 9 0% 3 0%
Contribution towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research adopted onto the NIHR CRN portfolio, where these costs are not met in other ways. 192 7% 95 9%
Unspecified 84 3% 24 2%
Total 2682 100% 1064 100%


Table H provides an analysis of staff supported by RCF in 2019-20 according to post grade.

Table H: Staff supported by RCF in 2019-20 according to post grade

GradeNumber of individualsNumber of FTEs
HEI Grade 1 1 0
HEI Grade 2 0 0
HEI Grade 3 8 5
HEI Grade 4 29 16
HEI Grade 5 35 18
HEI Grade 6 68 39
HEI Grade 7 113 74
HEI Grade 8 62 31
HEI Grade 9 30 14
HEI Grade 10 4 1
HEI Grade 12  1 1
HEI other 210 90
Professor 90 21
NHS Band 1 63 25
NHS Band 2 13 8
NHS Band 3 74 29
NHS Band 4 145 67
NHS Band 5 162 82
NHS Band 6 305 164
NHS Band 7 259 125
NHS Band 8 304 122
NHS Band 9 17 4
NHS other 40 15
Specialist Registrar 49 20
Consultant 572 89
Unassigned 28 5
Totals 2682 1064

Section 5: Investment in NHS priorities

Table I and Figure 5 show the breakdown of FTEs supported by RCF in 2019-20 split by NHS priority area.

Table I: FTEs supported by RCF by NHS priority area

NHS priority areaNumber of FTEsFTEs as proportion of total
Cancer  49  5%
Cardiovascular disease  57  5%
Dementia and neurodegenerative diseases  31  3%
Diabetes  24  2%
Health services research  277  26%
Mental health  144  14%
Paediatrics  26  2%
Primary care  100  9%
Public health  29  3%
Reproductive Health and childbirth  27  3%
Other*  67  6%
Unspecified  232  22%
Totals  1064  100%

*Other includes the following priority areas:

  • Age and ageing
  • Anaesthetics
  • Clinical genetics
  • Critical care
  • Dermatology
  • Ear nose & throat
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Hepatology
  • Immunology and inflammation
  • Infectious diseases & microbiology
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Medicines for children
  • Metabolic and endocrine
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Non-malignant haematology
  • Oral and dental
  • Renal
  • Respiratory
  • Stroke
  • Surgery
  • Urogenital

Section 6: Examples of specific uses of RCF during 2019-20

The following quotes provided in reporting by NHS Trusts and CCGs in receipt of RCF in 2019-20 provide examples of how the funding has been spent and its impact. Annex A provides examples of good uses of RCF and unacceptable or questionable uses of RCF.

NHS Trust/Foundation Trust impact statements

“We have continued to use RCF funds to enable our research groups to reserve dedicated time for some of their staff to seek new external funding opportunities and to apply for grants with the help of experienced research mentors. We continue to encourage our management teams to utilise a wide range of research funds (RCF, LCRN funding, other external support funds as well as internally allocated resources) to support research. RCF has once again proved to be essential to support exposed groups made vulnerable due to the large reductions in NIHR funding which has required the Trust to adopt an integrated approach to utilising the infrastructure funding that is available to it in order to grow our research activities.”

“RCF in our organisation is predominantly used to support and develop research units in areas of existing strength and potential growth. Through our research unit structure, we fund a number of research associates, research assistants and service user researchers who support NIHR faculty members to secure further NIHR grant funding to ensure the units are sustainable.”

“As in previous years the Trust has continued to utilise its RCF allocation to support our overall agenda of increasing recruitment into NIHR portfolio studies and to support researchers in developing their research in order to incentivise Directorates to maximise the NIHR income received.”

“NIHR CF) is vital to support our research hospital infrastructure and allow us to strategically invest in posts to build research capacity at our organisation. In 2019-20, we have again used a significant proportion (£600k) to invest directly in research capacity in support departments, allowing us to expand our research portfolio across our range of specialities.”

“We have applied a strategic approach towards the use of the RCF by supporting a number of initiatives to develop our research capacity and capability. For example:

  • Delivery of a trial to support research in Reproductive Health. This worthwhile investment has already produced significant outputs including leveraged funding of £2.7m from the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme for an RCT on ‘Perinatal and 2-year neurodevelopmental outcome in late preterm foetal compromise: the TRUFFLE 2 Randomised Trial’;
  • We have provided additional research delivery staff support within the specialty to meet the existing demand for recruitment into NIHR Portfolio non-commercial and commercial studies in Women’s Health;
  • Together with our Clinical Academic Training Office (CATO), we are building non-medical health professional research capacity, which will support the delivery of a strategic aim for the BRC/NIHR of encouraging more research careers in the nursing and allied health professions;
  • We have also supported the recruitment of a laboratory manager for the newly refurbished, NIHR-funded, AMR lab at Charing Cross Hospital and a BioAID study technician. BioAID is funded by our BRC and supports applied infectious disease research and has now been adopted onto the NIHR portfolio.”

CCG impact statements

“RCF provides funding for us to continue to the development of the clinical academic capacity with our NHS partners across our agreed priority areas. The funding supports staff between grants and specifically helps clinical academic staff in applying for personal fellowship opportunities as well as developing programmes of work. We have continued to develop opportunities across the multidisciplinary clinical academic community and expand our research themes.”

“Funding to support research leadership and grant applications to NIHR for development of primary care research.”

“Our CCG which includes a number of partner organisations pooled their recruitment related RCF with a matching amount of grant related RCF. We commissioned a call which was advertised to our academic partners at our collaborating universities to encourage research development around the areas of priority for our CCGs and NIHR ensuring that we were able to work more effectively with strategic partners.”

“Supporting our CCG, RCF has generated increase portfolio recruitment activity and also enabled the submission of grant applications. One successful NIHR grant in collaboration with other local NHS partners and one Innovate UK funded project (generating local home-grown research activity) in collaboration with a commercial partner”

“RCF provides funding for us to continue to develop the clinical academic capacity with our NHS partners across our agreed priority areas. The funding supports staff between grants and specifically helps clinical academic staff in applying for personal”

“We have used RCF this year to provide cover for maternity leave to avoid delay in research outcomes; provided bridging to staff in small gaps between research awards.”

“We developed a tailored research call directly informed by and with the newly established CCG Planning Department, ensuring alignment with the CCGs priority areas and the newly refreshed strategic plan. The 19-20 call was framed around the agreed 5 programme areas and in addition we highlighted specific priority areas within these areas to produce a more tailored call, that was considered to be important to both the local and national health economy. The grant scheme continues to be used to fund the generation of preliminary or underpinning data (qualitative or quantitative) to support an NIHR application known as a ‘pump priming’ grant.”

Section 7: Ways in which RCF recipients gain benefit from their allocation

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

  • increased 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 on working with partner organisations).

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 Research for Patient Benefit (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 into 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 service level agreement (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 for any cost of training in research management and governance for R&D Office staff.

Annex A: Legitimate uses of RCF

The RCF webpage and FAQ set out the permitted uses of RCF. This annex provides examples of good uses of RCF and of unacceptable or questionable 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

  • 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 CRN funding.