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Critical care


We fund critical care research projects through our funding programmes, and support training and career development for critical care researchers.

We deliver critical care research funded by the NIHR, the life sciences industry and non-commercial organisations such as charities. We support the set up and delivery of this research in the NHS and in public health and social care settings. Our research infrastructure also supports research funded by these partners, offering expertise, collaborations and facilities.

We also provide opportunities for people affected by critical care conditions and their families and carers to influence and take part in research.


The NIHR supports patients and the public to participate in high quality research taking place in health and care settings across England, advancing knowledge and improving care.

NIHR Clinical Research Network

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) includes 30 specialty groups, who coordinate and support the delivery of high quality research by therapy area. Some of this research is funded by the NIHR, but most of it is funded by non-commercial organisations, such as charities or universities, and the life sciences industry.

The CRN provides researchers with the practical support they need to make research happen. It supports the set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS and in other health and care settings through our Study Support Service, with tailored offers of support for:

Supporting critical care research

The Critical Care Specialty supports a national portfolio of high quality research studies relating to the care of critically ill patients. The research relates primarily to intensive care, high dependency care and acute medical care.

We support researchers to deliver high quality studies to time and target in the NHS. We do this by engaging with the existing research community and developing the research infrastructure locally.

The portfolio of the Critical Care Specialty includes:

  • Interventions to improve outcomes from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and sepsis
  • Understanding the long term implications of critical illness and how to improve recovery
  • The mechanisms and management of brain injury
  • Developing risk models to guide intensive care treatments for common conditions or complications
  • Minimising risk and morbidity associated with major surgery

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Critical Care Speciality has helped deliver a number of studies as part of the international effort to develop knowledge, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19.

Specialist expertise

The Critical Care Specialty Group has expertise and experience in all areas of critical care clinical research including: laboratory and experimental medicine; clinical trials testing safety and efficacy; large scale multi-centre pragmatic effectiveness trials and health policy implementation.

Research within critical care practice, where participants frequently lack the capacity to consent, is challenging. The UK’s nationally coordinated ethical approval processes permit rapid adoption in local centres, who are expert in the recruitment of such patients.

Co-enrolment agreements are encouraged and supported between clinical trials. A national framework to assist clinical trial teams to explore opportunities for patient co-enrolment has been successfully implemented throughout UK critical care research practice.

International Critical Care Trials

Many critical care trials led from other countries and funded by overseas charities or government organisations are also able to apply for support from the CRN.
The Critical Care Specialty, alongside the UK Critical Care Research Group (UKCCRG) have developed an International Trials Endorsement Policy for the UK.

Experimental medicine in critical care

This "Area of Innovation" aims to support the set up and delivery of Experimental Medicine in Critical Care studies within the NHS. Following on from the recommendations from the 2018 workshop, we intend to focus on the following areas:

  • Develop new and stronger partnerships with industry and cross-sector partners
  • Working with key stakeholders, to support the setup and delivery of studies in the NHS
  • Draft an Experimental Medicine in Critical care strategy to increase the capacity and capability across the UK, including recommendations for: 
    • The research workforce
    • Improving the efficiency of existing infrastructure
    • Development of trial design and methods
    • Improve NHS and Industry/Biobank engagement

The CRN Experimental Medicine subgroup will play a coordinating role in progressing these recommendations, which will require UK system-wide responses.

Who we are

As well as providing research delivery staff, we also bring together highly engaged NHS consultants and clinical academics from top UK universities, bringing both clinical and academic expertise to your research. Our experts in the CRN Specialty Group can advise on delivering your critical care study in the NHS and in particular geographic regions.

Professor Charlotte Summers is the CRN National Specialty Lead for Critical Care. Read Professor Summers’ full biography.

Profesor Dark is supported by local specialty leads in each of the 15 NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks.

Our collaborators and stakeholders

Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) is a key partner and represented by members on our national specialty group. 

ICNARC runs the National Intensive Care Case Mix Programme. This audit of patient outcomes covers adult, general critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This dataset has been vital in national service planning, and crucial to research development and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to reporting weekly clinical outcomes which have enabled rapid service evaluation, improvement and research adoption.


Our funding programmes fund high quality research in critical care that benefits the NHS, public health and social care. We also provide career development funding awards for critical care researchers - see the careers tab for more information.

Our funding programmes

Our commissioned research programmes often seek research proposals on critical care.

Most of our funding programmes also run funding calls open to research proposals on any topic (researcher-led calls), including research proposals in critical care.

Got an idea for research in critical care? The NIHR Research Design Service can help you turn it into a funding application, offering advice on research design, research methods, identifying funding sources, and involving patients and the public.

Our portfolio of critical care research

You can search and view all the critical care research we’ve funded on NIHR Funding and Awards.

In addition, a number of our research programmes publish comprehensive accounts of our critical care research in the NIHR Journals Library.

Our research schools

The NIHR School for Primary Care Research is a partnership between nine leading academic centres for primary care research in England. The school brings together academics and practitioners from across the country to collaborate on cutting edge, topical primary care studies that have an impact both at policy level and in general practices around the country.

The school has a research theme on acute care.


The NIHR attracts, trains and supports the best researchers in critical care to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future.

Our investment in people sustains excellent research capacity and expertise throughout clinical and non-clinical academic career pathways and provides high quality learning and development opportunities for the delivery workforce in our infrastructure.

Funding research careers

The NIHR Academy is responsible for the development and coordination of NIHR academic training, career development and research capacity development.

There is a wide range of NIHR training and career development awards available at different career stages, from pre-doctoral through to Research Professorships. These awards comprise both personal awards, which can be applied for directly with the NIHR, and institutional awards which should be applied for through the host institution.

Supporting the delivery workforce

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine (FICM) is the professional body responsible for the training, assessment, practice and continuing professional development of Intensive Care Medicine consultants in the UK. In conjunction with the NIHR, General Medical Council and other stakeholders, the FICM leads academic training in Intensive Care Medicine and details of the opportunities can be found on the research section of the FICM website.

The Critical Care specialty group also works closely with the UKCCRG and The Intensive Care Society through co-opted membership to offer mutual support and national strategic research development and delivery.

Our Clinical Research Network works in partnership with the FICM to recognise the outstanding contribution of NHS consultants and trainees who are active in research through a yearly award scheme.


The NIHR invests significantly in people, centres of excellence, collaborations, services and facilities to support health and care research in England. Collectively these form the world-class NIHR infrastructure. We also provide career development funding awards for critical care researchers - see the careers tab for more information.

This national research infrastructure is available to use by UKRI, research charities and the life sciences industry as well as NIHR researchers.

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres

NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) are collaborations between world-leading universities and NHS organisations that bring together academics and clinicians to translate lab-based scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies.

The following BRC undertakes research in critical care:

NIHR Applied Research Collaborations

NIHR Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs) support applied health and care research that responds to, and meets, the needs of local populations and local health and care systems.

The NIHR ARC Yorkshire and Humber undertakes research in urgent and emergency care. This ARC also leads the national ARC effort on urgent and emergency care.

NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives

NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) build expertise and capacity in the NHS to develop new medical technologies and provide evidence on commercially-supplied in vitro diagnostic tests.

The Trauma Management MedTech Cooperative will build expertise and capacity in the NHS to support the development of new medical technologies in order to enable improved management of the trauma care pathway from the point of injury through to stabilisation and recovery.

NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre

The NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre (SRMRC) is a national hub for trauma research. The centre transfers new emergency medicine practices developed in the military frontline to the NHS, to improve outcomes for all patients.

NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative

The NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative (HIC) has been set up to deliver high quality data in key therapeutic areas and make NHS clinical data more readily available to researchers, industry and the NHS community.

Critical care is one of the research themes of the HIC.

NIHR Clinical Research Network

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS and in other health and care settings. Find out more on the delivery tab.


The NIHR funds and supports world-class experts in critical care.

In addition, our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (National Specialty Leads) can advise on delivering your critical care study in the NHS or in other health and social care settings.

National Specialty Lead

Professor Charlotte Summers is the National Specialty Lead for Critical Care. She is University Professor of Intensive Care Medicine and Director of Clinical Academic Training at the University of Cambridge.

Research Professor

The NIHR Research Professorship is the flagship personal funding award for the NIHR. The scheme funds research leaders of the future to promote effective translation of research.

Professor Anthony Gordon, Chair in Anaesthesia and Critical Care at Imperial College and a Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine, is an NIHR Research Professor.

Professor Gordon’s research programme aims to develop a personalised medicine strategy for patients with sepsis to allow treatment of patients as individuals. Read more about Prof Gordon’s research.

Public Involvement

We engage with and involve patients, carers, service users and members of the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research in critical care.

Have your say in critical care research

We involve patients, carers, service users and members of the public in our national research funding and support activities, including in critical care research.

The researchers we fund also involve patients in planning and delivering their critical care research.

Involvement opportunities across the NIHR

Our Local Clinical Research Networks involve people in critical care research taking place in your local area.

The NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre has a Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement group made up of former patients who have either suffered trauma or burn injury or have spent time in critical care, as well as carers and members of the public. Their role is to provide feedback on any and all aspects of research carried out by the centre.

Take part in critical care research

Be Part of Research is an online service that lists opportunities to take part in critical care research across the UK.


Critical care research and COVID-19

The CRN Critical Care Speciality has been at the forefront of the international effort against COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic we have helped deliver a number of prioritised studies to develop knowledge, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. 

Find out about the NIHR's critical care research and COVID-19