Monday, 14 May 2012

Taming the Hydra: Understanding the NIHR


To many the NIHR can seem like a fearsome hydra: many headed, terrifying and difficult to believe in. However, at an all day event last week this scary dragon was discussed and explained, demystified and domesticated. By the end it felt like a logical, tolerant, well trained hound, acceptable in all the finest (research) establishments.

Ann Deehan (Dept of Health) began by sketching out the shape of the beast. Essentially, it has at its heart patients and the public. These are nestled inside NHS Trusts which are, in turn, supported by universities in gathering information and undertaking research. The NIHR supports this relationship by feeding into it in four ways:

  • ‘Faculty’: provides training and fellowship funding;
  • ‘Research’: provides funding for projects and institutes;
  • ‘Systems’: provides support for processes and procedures;
  • ‘Infrastructure’: provides support for networks, centres, facilities and units.

Dawn Biram (Trainees Coordinating Centre – TCC) outlined the work of the NIHR Faculty. NIHR offers a number of fellowships for both clinicians and academics, at all stages of their career. They generally offer a salary for between 3 – 5 years, full tuition fees (for PhD students), research costs, and full support for training and development. If the fellowship is based in the NHS it covers 100% of the costs; if it’s in a university, it’s 80% - in line with the funding offered by the Research Councils.

Angie Borzychowski (Central Commissioning Facility – CFF) and Alison Ford (NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre – NETSCC) outlined different parts of the NIHR’s Research arm. Alison summed up the difference between the MRC and two of the NIHR’s schemes quite neatly: the MRC funds research to see if a particular intervention is scientifically possible; the Efficacy and MechanismEvaluation Programme (EME) funds research to see if it really does work in practice; and the Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA) funds research to see if it’s worth it. Can it work; does it work; is it worth it.

Angie, by contrast, looked at funding from the Research for Patient Benefit Scheme (RfPB) and Programme Grants for AppliedResearch (PGAR). These fund projects based in the NHS, but with academic input. They are intended to fund research which will have implications for patients. RfPB funds relatively small scale projects (up to £250k), whereas the PGAR awards are huge: £2m for up to five years. More specific advice on these will be given in later posts, but it’s worth bearing in mind that ‘patient and public involvement’ is crucial, that costs and value for money and examined thoroughly, and that the deadline for submissions will be switching from 5pm to 1pm, so don’t be caught out.

Finally Ian Akers (Comprehensive Local Research Network –CLRN) outlined the work of NIHR Infrastructure. The CLRN grew out of previous, disease-specific networks, such as the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN). It provides help and support for researchers in the NHS, reducing red tape, funding additional people, and advising researchers on how to make their studies work in the NHS. It had had considerable success meeting the particular challenges in Kent and Medway, and had seen a large increase in participation in research over the past four years.

If you want more advice on the NIHR, or help with putting together an application to it, get in touch with the Research Design ServiceSouth East, which is funded by the NIHR to help applicants. Based at the Universities of Kent, Surrey and Sussex, there is help available on your doorstep. 

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