Three National Health Service Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in the South West of England have secured a total of nearly £1 million in awards under the National Institute for Health Research’s Research Capability scheme.

The combined allocation for 2012/13 is the biggest made to any primary care trust cluster in the country, the Trusts say.

It is dwarfed, though, by grants to high-profile academic research centres such as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which got £7.24 million for 2012/13, or University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was awarded Research Capability Funding of £6.41 million.

Direct recognition

The funds for the South West cluster went to NHS Bristol (£958,360) NHS North Somerset (£20,000) and NHS South Gloucestershire (£20,000), giving a combined grant of £998,360.

“This sum is substantially larger than that awarded to any other NHS primary care trust in the country, which is a great achievement as it is a direct recognition of both the amount and quality of research being conducted in the area,” commented Peter Brindle, research and development programme director for primary care trusts in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

RCF criteria

NIHR Research Capability Funding (RCF) replaced the Institute’s Flexibility and Sustainability Funding programme from April 2012.

The money is allocated to research-active NHS organisations in proportion to the total amount of other NIHR income received by that organisation and the number of NIHR senior investigators associated with the organisation.

Research Capability Funding is also allocated to NIHR Clinical Research Networks (CRNs) for their local research networks, via the NHS organisations that host the networks.

The aim of the RCF scheme, the NIHR notes, is to help NHS organisations “act flexibly and strategically” in maintaining research capacity and capability; support the appointment, development and retention of key staff who undertake or support people- and patient-based research; and to contribute towards the costs of hosting NIHR-funded or ‘adopted’ research not fully covered by other NIHR programmes or met in other ways.

To qualify for Research Capability funding, NHS organisations must either have received sufficient NIHR income in the previous calendar year to reach the threshold of at least £20 million that triggers a RCF allocation; or have recruited at least 500 patients to non-commercial clinical studies, conducted through the NIHR CRN, during the previous financial year.

Programme changes

The main changes in the programme compared with the Flexibility and Sustainability Funding stream are:

•    The RCF programme broadens the permitted uses of Trust and Network Research Capability Funding to allow some contribution towards sponsorship and governance costs as well as overheads associated with hosting research.

•    It enables Trusts that recruit significant numbers of patients each year, yet do not receive enough NIHR funding to trigger Trust Research Capability Funding, to qualify for a fixed basal amount.

•    It allows Trust Research Capability Funding to contribute towards maternity, paternity and long-term sick-leave costs.

•    It simplifies the rules for Network Research Capability Funding so that permitted uses follow those allowed for core funding while avoiding the diversion of funds into supporting research conduct per se.

The award to PCTs in the South West of England will “enable us to support and manage more research projects that will tackle some for the major issues we face today as a health community – cancer, dementia, depression and many more”, commented  Deborah Evans, chief executive of the NHS in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.