Programme Grants for Applied Research

This prestigious scheme is notable in its funding of NHS and academic partners to work together, addressing complex healthcare problems, in ways not always possible through other programmes. 

Awards are made to leading applied research teams in England to improve health outcomes in areas of priority or need such as disease management and in safety and quality. Around 200 programmes of research have already been funded through this scheme.

NIHR Themed call on the management of chronic pain – Programme Grants for Applied Research in partnership with Versus Arthritis

PGfAR is participating in the NIHR themed call on the management of chronic pain.

We're delighted to be partnering with Versus Arthritis in this themed call to address its Pain Roadmap priorities in arthritis disease management and applied health research. Co-funding is available for appropriate studies for all competitions open in 2019 with potential for ongoing activity in 2020.

Through this partnership call for applications we are striving to fund proposals in three of the four Pain roadmap themes: Stratification, Management and Support and Prevention. Proposals are sought that seek to address research questions in the roadmap priorities noted below. Proposals are not limited to the exemplar issues within the priority areas.

Interventions - Developing or testing new approaches to treating and managing musculoskeletal pain.

Workplace - Development and testing of new and sustainable models of workplace interventions and practice to help people with musculoskeletal pain maintain healthy working lives.

Services - Development of approaches to achieve a more responsive and effective support service for people with musculoskeletal pain.

Under-represented groups - Research providing practical application of how to reach and engage these groups in the management of chronic pain.

Prevention - Preventing the transition from acute to chronic pain; identifying and managing risk factors for developing chronic pain and how/when to intervene; exploring the organisation of public health and healthcare services to support prevention

Further information can be found in the co-funding brief. Please note that the Aims and Scope of applications must fall within the normal remit of PGfAR.

PGfAR is also participating in the following themed call:

Frailty – ‘Improving the outcomes of health and social care for frail people and their carers’  - Proposals are invited for health and social care research that slows or prevents further declines in health, or supports/promotes healthy ageing, independence, and wellbeing. Research should take into account the wider health and social care needs of the individual and their family or other carers. This themed call will apply to Competitions 29 and 30. For more information please see the specification document.

For further details, including ongoing NIHR Highlight Notices, please see Please note that PGfAR’s researcher led calls are open to all relevant research areas, and do not just include Themed Calls and Highlight Notices. If you are responding to a themed call or highlight notice, please indicate this in the application form in Section 6, Research Plan, Question 1 ‘What is the problem being addressed?’  

Aims and Scope

We are a response mode programme aiming to:

  • deliver research findings with a practical application for the benefit of patients within three to five years of the end of the funding award, typically through promotion of health, prevention of ill health, and optimal disease management (including safety and quality), with particular emphasis on conditions causing significant disease burden, where other research funders may not be focused, or there is insufficient funding available.
  • enable NHS Bodies and other providers of NHS services to tackle areas of high priority or need
  • provide some stability of funding to support the long-term development of top quality applied research groups working in the NHS.

Individual programmes consist of an interrelated group of high quality projects focused on a coherent theme, requiring multidisciplinary approaches, including clinical, health economics, statistics, qualitative and behavioural sciences, to ensure that research objectives can be met.

The PGfAR programme will support:

  • applied health research and the programme’s research infrastructure needs, including: health services research; public health research; behavioural research; economic evaluations; and modelling (e.g. decision analytic studies). A significant proportion (expected to be at least 30% of the overall activity funded by the award) can be development work; defined as limited implementation of a service development in the NHS, together with a formal, integrated research evaluation
  • a number of high quality related projects, and associated infrastructure, which form a coherent theme in an area of priority or need for the NHS, and where added value is gained from the combination of the various strands of research
  • well balanced applied research teams with strength and depth of expertise and a track record of pulling through clinical research into benefits for patients, the public and the NHS
  • work which, within the specified timescale, will definitively show the value of a treatment, package of care or service improvement, enabling it to be implemented more widely within the NHS, as appropriate (or at least demonstrate justification for feasibility of a larger scale evaluation).
  • applications for work which generates added value by building on research funded by other organisations may be acceptable
  • observational research where the programme is strongly linked to policy makers or commissioners and there is a clear and identifiable trajectory to patient benefit.
  • pilot or feasibility studies for large, definitive trials, whose funding would be sought from elsewhere, as part of the broader programme of work.

NOTE: NIHR and the PGfAR Programme will only support primary research that is informed by a review of the existing literature. See the Adding Value in Research page. Findings from this scheme are published in the NIHR Journals Library.

More information about the types and range of studies supported by the programme can be found in the set of linked programme guidance and Director's messages and the below (study example)

The PGfAR programme will not support:

  • basic research or experimental medicine. Applications containing elements of basic research or experimental medicine will not be funded if this research cannot be removed without compromising the delivery of the programme.
  • exploratory rather than confirmatory research; for example, “fishing expeditions” to find risk factors, but validation of previously identified factors would be eligible for support; similarly, development of theory would not be supported, but its validation or application could be.
  • applications comprising solely a single Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT). Applications comprising solely of a collection of small RCTs are unlikely to be deemed sufficiently coherent.
  • applications consisting solely of evaluations of existing services, where the programme of work does not include work to allow the evidence-based development of these services.
  • applications for funding to complete research originally funded by other organisations.
  • applications for work which is not generalisable beyond the immediate service environment.

The amount awarded and the length of the funding period depends on the nature of the proposed work, in particular whether or not the proposal includes a substantial powered trial. Funding in excess of £2.5 million beyond six years will be unusual while applications terminating in pilot or feasibility trials will receive reduced funding (normally under £500k over three years, but up to £1m for difficult complex interventions).

Research Priorities

We will accept applications in all areas of applied health research. Periodically, NIHR will issue new themed calls, highlight notices or emphasise continued interest in areas of particular importance or priority Information on previous themed calls can be found on the NIHR Themed Call page.

Funding Process and Selection Criteria

For an overview of the funding process, please see our process map. The selection criteria used by the selection committees at both application stages will be:

  • the strength of the research team, including the relevant expertise and track-record of the applicants in conducting high-quality applied health research
  • the relevance of the proposed research to the priorities and needs of the NHS
  • the likelihood of significant benefit to the NHS and patients within 3-5 years of the end of the funding period
  • the quality of the research planned
  • the value for money provided by the application.

Competition dates

We run 3 competitions a year which typically launch in February, June & October.

Competition 28 Stage 1 Stage 2 (if invited)
Competition launch 04 October 2018 07 February 2019
Submission deadline 28 November 2018 03 April 2019
Committee review January 2019 July 2019
Submission outcome Early February 2019 Mid August 2019
Competition 29 Stage 1 Stage 2 (if invited)
Competition launch 07 February 2019 05 June 2019
Submission deadline 03 April 2019 31 July 2019
Committee review May 2019 October 2019
Submission outcome Early June 2019 Mid December 2019
Competition 30 Stage 1 Stage 2 (if invited)
Competition launch 03 June 2019 04 October 2019
Submission deadline 24 July 2019 27 November 2019
Committee review September 2019 Feb/March 2020
Submission outcome Late September 2019 Early April 2020



All NHS bodies* and other providers of NHS services in England may propose programmes, in collaboration with an appropriate academic partner or partners provided they are capable of fulfilling the role of research sponsor as set out in the Research Governance Framework for Health & Care. Bids may be submitted by consortia including more than one NHS body or other provider of NHS services. Bids may include support for patient/consumer groups leading or participating in programmes of research.

It is possible that the academic partner could be a University outside England, if an appropriate case is made in the application. We would expect the application to make a strong case that the chosen academic partner was the organisation best placed to provide academic input to the planned research.

If the application is successful, a contract will be placed with lead NHS body or other provider of NHS services for delivery of the research.

*Under Schedule 4 paragraph 138(2)(c) of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, ‘NHS body’ means: (a) the Board; (b) a Clinical Commissioning Group; (c) a Special Health Authority; (d) an NHS trust; and (e) an NHS foundation trust.

Further Opportunities

Researchers considering submitting a Stage 1 application are encouraged to submit an outline of their proposal for guidance before official submission. This is intended to help applicants to engage with the requirements of the scheme much earlier so that issues commonly raised by assessment committees at Stage 2 can be minimised.

Potential applicants can also undertake appropriate preparatory work through a Programme Development Grant to strengthen their future programme.  

Study example

In a study (DonaTE) led by Professor Morgan Myfanwy, King's College London (KCL), the research team aimed to understand why donation rates are relatively low among black and South Asian communities in the UK and to identify the characteristics of effective community campaigns and hospital interventions. The findings are published in the NIHR Journals Library (see citation below) and, to support transplant counsellors, a 30-minute film produced for KCL by Floating Harbour Films is available on NIHRtv/You Tube, Life after Death: Supporting organ donation choices for ethnic minority families (view below).

Citation: Morgan M, Kenten C, Deedat S, Farsides B, Newton T, Randhawa G, et al. Increasing the acceptability and rates of organ donation among minority ethnic groups: a programme of observational and evaluative research on Donation, Transplantation and Ethnicity (DonaTE)Programme Grants Appl Res 2016;4(4)


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We offer a wide variety of assistance during all stages of the research process. If in doubt, please get in touch.