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Use of NIHR Research Capability Funding in 2021-22


Published: 23 January 2023

Version: 2.0 June 2023

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Section 1: Summary

2021-22 Research Capability Funding (RCF) was 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 2021-22, 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 2021-22, 133 patient recruitment-based allocations amounting to £2,900,000 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      130 of the 161 Trusts and CCGs allocated RCF in 2021-22 (any allocations paid but un-reported are refunded to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)).

Table A

 Recruitment based RCF spend Amount 
Total recruitment based RCF allocation £3,320,000
Total reported recruitment based spend £2,718,398
Unclaimed/un-reported  £601,602

The breakdown of recruitment based RCF spend reported for 2021-22 is shown in Table B and Figure 1.

Table B

Type of RCF spendBreakdownAmount% of total spend
Spending on staff  - £2,142,853 65%
Spending on hosting research Accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research £148,196 5%
Cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office £61,299 2%
Contribution towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio £248,801 9%
No claim/unreported  - £601,602 18%
Totals  - £3,320,000 100%


Section 3: Analysis of income based RCF spend

In 2021-22, 104 allocations amounting to £47,881,719 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 104 Trusts and CCGs in 2021-22.

Table C

Income typeAmount 
Total NIHR income based RCF allocation £47,881,719
Total reported NIHR income based spend £47,787,276

To note, variance to allocation is due to underspends reported amounting to £ 94,443. Any underspends are clawed back by reducing RCF in the following year.

The breakdown of income based RCF spend reported for 2021-22 is shown in Table D and Figure 2.

Table D 

Type of RCF


BreakdownAmount% of total spend
Spending on staff  - £39,348,459 82%
Spending on hosting research Accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource management costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research £4,778,980 10%
Cost of training in research management and governance for staff of the Trust’s R&D Office £392,025 0.8%
Contribution towards the sponsorship and governance costs associated with research included in the NIHR CRN portfolio £3,267,812 7%
No claim/unreported  - £94,443 0.2%
Totals  - £54,141,013 100%

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 1% 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 2021-22.

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 E

Staff supported by RCF at a single organisation

Number of individuals
Maximum number of staff supported by a single organisation 38
Median number of staff supported 2.1
Mean number of staff supported 4.9

The following tables show a breakdown of the number of staff supported by RCF in 2021-22:

  • 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 1586 554
Higher Education Institute (HEI) 620 261
‘Other’ 77 23
Total 2283 838

Table G: RCF-supported staff posts by RCF category

RCF categoryIndividuals % of totalNos of FTEFTEs as % 
Research-related component ofan NIHR Faculty member’s salary,which is not covered by otherfunding sources. 562 25% 188 22%
Salary costs of new staff whoare expectedto be Faculty members,but whohave not yet obtained fundingfrom other NIHR sources. 156 7% 62 7%
Salary costs of existingFaculty memberswho are ‘between grants. 78 3% 36 4%
The time of Faculty members incontributing to the widerresearch endeavour(e.g. membership ofpeer review panels). 184 8% 45 5%
The research-related timeof NHS-employedscientific, administrative,and secretarial staffwho support Faculty membersin their NIHR-related work. 541 24% 197 24%
Meeting the accommodation costs,finance management costs,and human resourcemanagement costincurred in hostingNIHR-funded research,where these costs are associatedwith staff leadingor undertaking research. 95 4% 38 5%
Meeting the cost of the time ofFaculty members inpreparing grant proposals. 204 9% 72.6 9%
Net costs incurred by a hostorganisation in meetingthe salary of anindividual supportedby NIHR, while on maternity,paternity or long-term sick leave. 93 4% 40 5%
Back-filling keyNIHR grant funded postsleft temporarilyvacant duringthe award periodby a member ofstaff taking maternity,paternity, or long-term sick leave. 36 2% 17 2%
Cost of training in researchmanagement andgovernance for staff of theTrust’s R&D Office. 11 0.5% 5 1%
Contribution towards thesponsorship andgovernance costs associatedwith research adopted ontothe NIHR CRN portfolio,where these costs are notmet in other ways. 161 7% 76 9%
Unspecified  162 7% 61 7%
Total 2283 100% 838 100%

Table H provides an analysis of staff supported by RCF in 2021-22 according to post grade.

GradeNumber of IndividualsNumber of FTEs
HEI Grade 10 6 3
HEI Grade 2 1 1
HEI Grade 3 10 5
HEI Grade 4 26 11
HEI Grade 5 33 19
HEI Grade 6 62 38
HEI Grade 7 71 35
HEI Grade 8 47 24
HEI Grade 9 37 15
HEI other 164 72
NHS Band 2 10 3
NHS Band 3 70 23
NHS Band 4 142 61
NHS Band 5 171 72
NHS Band 6 278 121
NHS Band 7 251 103
NHS Band 8 243 90
NHS Band 9 24 5
NHS other 32 8
Professor 137 27
Specialist Registrar 43 17
Consultant 375 66
Unassigned 50 20
Totals 2283 838

Section 5: Investment in NHS priorities

Table I and Figure 5 show the breakdown of FTEs supported by RCF in 2021-22 split by NHS priority area.

NHS Priority area

Number of FTEs

FTEs as proportion of total







Dementia & Neurodegenerative Diseases



Health Services Research



Mental Health






Primary Care



Public Health



Reproductive Health & Childbirth















*Other includes the following priority areas:

  • Age and ageing
  • Anaesthetics
  • Clinical genetics
  • Critical care
  • Cross priority
  • 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 2020-2021

The following quotes provided in reporting by NHS organisations in receipt of RCF in 2021-22 provide examples of how the funding has been spent and its impact. Annex A provides additional examples of good uses of RCF and unacceptable or questionable uses of RCF.

Sample of income based RCF impact statements

“We have been involved in the managed recovery process, initiated by the NIHR, with the objective of reinvigorating research activity in the NHS, identifying priority studies that trusts should focus on in their re-start programmes. In addition, the number of new studies coming through from pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions significantly increased as organisations released new studies from their development portfolios that have steadily accumulated but could not start because of the situation in trusts. The result has been a significant increase in the number of studies seeking start up approval, putting huge pressure on our Joint Research Management Office’s Governance and Contracting staff. The impact of these pressures has been significantly mitigated by the careful allocation of RCF resources to support our teams and help our researchers to re-start their research programmes.”

“Once again, the support we can provide for staff who are between grants has been extremely valuable and has enabled us to retain the services of highly trained individuals who deliver our research projects. Staff retention is now a major issue and replacing research staff at a time when the labour market is extremely tight, is challenging. RCF funds have played an important part in our drive to retain the services of talented individuals and prevent destabilising the research workforce. 

“RCF has proved to be invaluable to the Trust. The funding of a CRIS data analyst has facilitated a number of doctoral projects and its use has been included in at least two successful grant applications. Two programme grants have been successfully awarded. Use of CRIS has also allowed for some pilot work to be done to support and strengthen grant submissions.”

“Following the impact of COVID on research, the majority of studies were paused in the Trust. Some of the RCF was used to invest in the sponsorship and governance teams. This enabled them to focus their efforts on recovery – restarting studies as quickly as possible, working with study teams to adapt their projects so they can deliver successfully in the challenging pandemic/post pandemic environment.”

“RCF has enabled a significant expansion of the Trust's capacity for sponsorship of large-scale studies. We are one of very few mental health trusts which sponsor CTIMPS, and we now have the capacity and ability to deliver robust sponsorship and oversight. Other funds have gone to build capacity in our key research areas including dementia, autism and mood disorders and have enabled work on several successful grants."

“RCF has enabled continued funding for specialist research development staff, based in the central R&I department, who support the development of new NIHR, research council and charity grants across the Trust. In 2021, the Trust achieved record success rates with NIHR grants (both at EoI and full stage), a testament to the value of investing RCF in a core team of research development specialists to work with NBT staff to develop needs-led, high quality, feasible grants. RCF monies were also allocated to develop areas of strategic importance, which this year included a continuation of funding for three Research Facilitator posts to work within our Medicine Division, Breast Care Centre and Women & Children’s Division. These Research Facilitator posts are based within the clinical areas and work directly with senior clinical, research and management staff to identify new research programmes and establish a pipeline of NIHR grant applications. These Research Facilitator posts were originally awarded through a competitive call for applications from across the Trust. To date, the investment of RCF in these three clinical areas Research Facilitator posts has resulted in securing £14.3m of NIHR grant funding for NBT, as well as several grants from smaller funders to pump-prime new areas of research which have the potential to feed into future NIHR applications. The success of the RCF funded Research Facilitator posts in generating new research and NIHR grant development at has resulted in our hospital charity agreeing to invest in additional Research Facilitator posts (Renal, Vascular, Neo-natal and Neurology).”

“RCF was allocated by the R&I Board to stimulate research resilience, recovery and growth across our Trust and HEI partner post-pandemic. Eight new NIHR funded grants (total award value £4.88M) were secured. The R&I department has formed a partnership with a national health technology business support organisation, aiming to enable collaborations between the NHS, academia and the SME sector. An important impact of our RCF allocation strategy has been the success of a local clinical academic partnership with one new award in 21/22. One of our strategic priorities is to enable health data research in key priorities areas such as respiratory medicine and hepatology. RCF was used to create capacity in the Trust digital services and IG departments to accelerate the development and delivery of new data projects in these areas. Finally, and as part of our EDI strategy to improve equality and diversity among research professionals to create three fellowships to support researchers from groups with protected characteristics."

“RCF funding has been used within our Trust to support staff within priority areas including respiratory and surgery. Through RCF funding staff have been able to generate pilot protocols and data to support subsequent grant applications. We have also established strong partnerships with SMEs which ensures we can respond to innovation calls and bring new technology solutions into the NHS.  The resource has enabled the development of new grant applications including collaboration with public health colleagues in our local authority to submit for HDRC. This work all contributes to the future pipeline of research - generation of new grants and larger scale projects which benefit our community.”

“Overall, RCF has made a significant impact on building a robust clinical research culture and has helped to embed clinical research into routine business activity at the Trust. In 2021-22, its availability has once again played in important role in enabling us to make a valuable contribution to Covid-19 pandemic research as well as supporting the NIHR reset and restart programmes.”

Sample of recruitment based RCF impact statements

“This funding has helped us in forming closer local partnership to allow for greater collaborative working e.g., shared governance SOPs and templates to guide PIs."

“Funding has enabled research growth to provide more sustainable cross cover amongst specialties. It contributes to our strategy to expand our research capability, investing in skills and targeting new areas for research to provide equity across many disease areas."

"This funding was used to support clinicians develop plans for research projects, explore their feasibility, network with research partners and write applications.”

“RCF has contributed to the delivery of our research recovery plans.”

“RCF enabled cover for a senior research practitioner's maternity leave and supported research admin to the R&D team. This enabled the team to maintain their capacity and continue to respond to the demands imposed by the pandemic in areas of urgent public health studies which may not have been possible without this funding."

“This funding has enabled the Trust to restart the research with the wider portfolio other than Siren. Resourcing has been a big issue for us as a Trust due to sickness and operational need with covid spikes."

“The impact of this funding has been vital to the department. The Hospital has been able to continue to deliver high quality research and maintain adequate staffing to support portfolio growth."

"This award has supported a full time AfC Band 6 governance post to support the delivery of investigator led research studies within the organisation and has supported the development of close collaborative relationships with local academics to design and deliver research trials for the local population."

"The funding continues to support our Senior Research Officer post. The postholder supports development of ‘homegrown’ research and is a link between medical staff, academics and other stakeholders. As at 25.05.22 there are 15 'home grown' studies taking place at the Trust. They cover different specialities such as gastrointestinal, female health, hospital procedures, or paediatrics.  Collaboration with local universities continue to thrive… A number of proposals are in a pipeline, many are promising in terms of leading to large funding submissions, particularly for NIHR funding which is highly competitive."

“The CCG has used its RCF to support an innovative practice incentive scheme. This has enabled practices who are not traditionally research active to become involved in research. It has also enabled wider primary care staff to support research delivery or NIHR portfolio studies, including the practice-based pharmacy team. The impact overall has been to widen research activity to more of the CCG population. The finance split was to cover PC staff time (staff expenditure) and the other half was training, towards backfill time to complete study specific Good Clinical Practice (GCP)"

“Without this funding we would lose a member of staff. The £20k helps meet the unmet research costs faced by acute trust organisations with a large portfolio and no chief investigator activity. We are very grateful for this amount that supports our organisation to continue to support research."

"This modest funding provides a multiplier effect, enabling us to both fulfil our obligations under the RG Framework principles, and has been used this year to further develop the skills of our Research Support Officer and Delivery Administrator. Bridging funding for staff transitioning from different elements in the career pathway (PCAF onwards) has also been deployed. The funding has also been integral to supporting the Sponsorship of new portfolio studies, including unexpected licensing costs critical to a psychologically informed study in HD in alliance with the University."

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

After ten years of reporting on 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 organisations 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.

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. 

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 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.