The story of RfPB

The Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme launched its first call in July 2006 with the aim of funding research projects in health and social care to improve, expand and strengthen the way that healthcare is delivered for patients, the public and the NHS.

To date the RfPB Programme has provided a platform for research success nationwide, enabling teams to answer the questions that matter at the frontline of health and social care. Explore the puzzle below to find out about some of these, and hear from the Programme Director, Professor Sue Ziebland, as she discusses the future of the programme.

Application Follow on Funding Qualitative Research Patient Benefit Panels Clinical Trials Research Idea Capacity Building involvement Public

Answering the questions that matter

All NIHR research has its sights on patient benefit. The story of the RfPB programme so far demonstrates the particular contribution of this portfolio to the range, roots and regional relevance of NIHR research.  

Within the three funding tiers we fund secondary analyses, literature reviews, conversation analysis, qualitative interview studies, realist evaluation, intervention development, formative evaluations, feasibility trials and randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This is a remarkable range and the list is not exclusive: we welcome any design that appropriately addresses research questions that matter.  

RfPB is the programme that will fund the inquisitive clinician, with or without extensive research experience, and at whatever career stage.

The programme’s origins are firmly grounded with patients and the public, who (we are proud to say) have been closely involved in the programme since its inception. Based in eight English regions the funding panels are attuned to regional priorities and particularly receptive to applications led by clinicians with appropriate academic support.

Clinicians who discuss their early ideas with patients and the public, consult their local Research Design Service (RDS) and involve appropriate research methodologists are most likely to succeed.  Common suggestions at (the new) Stage one application process are to involve research specialists to improve the design, or to make clear why the question matters in an otherwise well described study.  

So, how might a frontline clinician identify and prioritise a research question for RfPB? Professor Paul Glasziou, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Bond University (Australia), talks about three ‘research buckets’ which all clinicians and researchers should maintain.

The first contains potential research questions, as brief notes, perhaps jotted in a notebook, and should always be brimming with ideas. The second bucket contains the current research projects. Whether an idea moves to the second bucket will often be influenced by responses to the following: has the question already been answered satisfactorily? Does the question matter to patients, to clinical practice, to the NHS? Who has the skills to help me answer this question? Will I get to work with people I admire? Will it be fun? Will I learn something new by working on this study? The final bucket contains the projects that are complete and awaiting write up for publication, as a final report or as a protocol for a trial, following a feasibility study. And it is empty (because writing up a completed study should always take priority).  

We may suspect that our most abundant bucket is not the one Professor Glasziou recommends, but we know he has a point.

During the coming years RfPB will work through the regional panels, with INVOLVE, the Research Design Service and NHS staff to encourage both innovative and well-established study designs to answer the questions that matter in health and social care research. We intend to improve panel feedback to help nurture the most promising research questions. We will be guided by insights from patients, the public and clinical staff. And we will continue to support early career researchers and experienced clinicians to engage their curiosity and embark on reflective research and practice.

Ultimately, this will benefit us all.   

Professor Sue Ziebland, RfPB Programme Director