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Sources of UK funding for health research

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There are three main types of funding body based in the UK:
  • Government, NHS and local authorities
  • Research Councils
  • Grant-giving trusts and foundations

 1. UK government departments

A number of government departments provide significant funding for a wide variety of research activities.

Of particular interest to most researchers using the RDS is the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which supports health research of benefit to patients and the NHS. The national programmes investigate a broad range of healthcare matters including the provision of funding to support the training and education of future health researchers. A number of the NIHR programmes are co-ordinated and managed by the NIHR Central Commissioning Facility (CCF), the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) and the NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre (NIHR TCC). NIHR research career opportunities provide training and career development awards, ranging from undergraduate level through to opportunities for established investigators and research leaders. More detailed information on the NIHR funding streams can be found at NIHR funding streams at a glance.

Which NIHR funding stream?

NIHR tips for success

In addition, the Department of Health (DH) spends about £30 million per annum through ad-hoc research budgets (held by Departmental policy branches) and through research undertaken by arm's length bodies including Public Health England (previously known as the Health Protection Agency), which are financed by a government but that acts independently of it.

Innovate UK (Technology Strategy Board) funds, supports and connects innovative businesses to accelerate sustainable economic growth, including in biomedical research.

2. Research Councils

The primary role of Research Councils UK (RCUK) is to fund research. Each year a total of around £3 billion is invested in research conducted at UK universities, Research Council Institutes, and in securing access to international facilities for UK researchers. The seven research councils are: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC); Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); Medical Research Council (MRC); Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC); The Royal Society.

3. Grant-making trusts and foundations

There are about 8,800 grant-making trusts and foundations in the UK, giving in total about £2.1 billion in grants to charities each year (2008/09). Most trusts and foundations derive their income from an endowment, i.e. a capital sum given to them by a rich individual, family or company. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as BBC Children in Need Trust. Some, but not all, can fund academic research. The amounts they offer vary from a few hundred pounds to multi-million pound grants. For example, the Leverhulme Trust, Wellcome Trust, Alzheimer’s Society and BUPA foundation.

The British Academy is the UK’s national body which champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It provides public funds supported through the Academy’s annual grant from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as sums from private funds arising from gifts, legacies, contributions made by Fellows and grants from research foundations.

Funding may of course also be obtained from industry or business. A wide variety of activities are funded by industry and the private sector. You can find opportunities from different funding bodies including a wider range of charities through ResearchProfessional.

4. Local funds

In addition, it is important to maximise the use of your local funds. Here are some examples for researchers using RDS London:

  • Kings Health Partners Research and Development Challenge Fund To support researchers from across KHP to undertake 'pump-prime' novel research, which may be in its infancy or have a high degree of risk. The Fund is designed to help researchers develop an evidence-base sufficient to enable them to apply for more substantial funding from established bodies such as the MRC or Wellcome trust.
  • Barts Charity It offers funding to staff at Barts Health Trust to do healthcare research.
  • Imperial College Healthcare Charity Imperial College Healthcare Charity is an independent charity that raises and manages charitable funds for all five hospitals within Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust: Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea, St Mary’s and Western Eye hospitals.

5. Other useful links

  • RDinfo A research funding database that is searchable for grants, charities and institutional funds after registering.  
  • Treatment costs, research costs and support costs Attributing the costs of health and social care research (AcoRD) Detailed guidance providing a framework for the NHS and its partners to identify, attribute and recover the various costs associated with research in the NHS. It clarifies the distinction between the three costs of research: Research Costs, NHS Support Costs and Treatment Costs. 
  • NHS Research Ethics Committee Health Research Authority tool for deciding if a study needs NHS REC approval