I attended the R&D meeting of one of our local NHS Trusts a few months ago where the main agenda item was the organization of the Trust’s annual research conference. During the meeting, two of the members started a fascinating discussion about the research process, which stayed with me long after the meeting had finished.
They were talking about the very beginning of the research process – about that spark of inspiration that can start an entire programme of research and from where such a spark can come. Interestingly, rather than talking about a fascinating theory or a novel approach, the fantastic force of inspiration they were discussing was that of simple frustration. The sources of this frustration encompassed a wide range of issues – from frustrations with clinical practice, patient progress and lack thereof, right through to frustrations with service organisation and delivery.
I found this a fascinating idea and it is one that is mirrored by the provision of research funding by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The NIHR is largely a funder of NHS-based research – the funds are held by NHS Trusts rather than HEIs, the principle investigators are usually NHS clinicians, and the research topics prioritised are those which will bring about direct benefit to patients. This focus makes the NIHR unique amongst the variety of other funders of research that exist, including the research councils and numerous charities. The NIHR is all about research for, and from, the NHS. Research topics are prioritised by various panels precisely to ensure that the topics believed to be of greatest import to patients and NHS staff are those that receive funding.
When discussing funding applications with researchers, my colleagues and I often talk about the ‘story’ behind the research. This story is a vital one to tell when making an application for funding. It straddles various parts of the application form – the background and rationale sections, the PPI sections, the outcomes sections. Identifying the source of your spark of inspiration is an important part of telling this story. And, often, this spark is one of frustration with how things currently stand and the desire to change things for the better.
I wrote a blog post a while ago about turning the frustrations associated with poor feedback following funding application rejection into fuel to redesign and reapply. It seems only fitting to now attend to the other end of the spectrum and say that the frustrations felt about any issues of clinical practice can equally be used to inspire research questions. And, as with any research question, your local RDS can help refine and direct these frustrations into a research question appropriate for NIHR funding.
Don’t let frustrations get you down; use them to fuel your research questions and apply for funding to identify solutions. By so doing, you may uncover solutions that will improve care for patients as well as easing the frustrations of staff.
ETA: As Nikki points out below, the NIHR does fund non-NHS research – the Public Health Research programme being a prime example of this.
I think your piece is an interesting one trying to turn frstraitions into positive actions.
Can I just point out that not all NIHR funding programmes only fund the NHS institutions. In your peice you say “the funds are held by NHS Trusts rather than HEIs”. This may be true for some of the programmes hosted by CCF, however NETSCC funding programmes fund the HEIs as well and a number of our lead organisations are HEIs. It is true that they have to have an NHS partner but the money isn’t held by the NHS institution.
Of course, you’re right esp re. PHR, which I had missed. However, I did think the host organisation (with the exception of PHR) had to be an NHS Trust. The PI can be from an HEI, but the money is paid in the first instance to the Trust, who then pays other partners as costed in the proposal.
The main point I was trying to make was the NIHR (on the whole) is a funder for researchers in the NHS as opposed to the research councils who are (again, on the whole) a funder for researchers in HEIs. I think many people in the NHS who would like to do research are put off because they think it’s something that’s not for them. One of the reasons for the existence of the NIHR and its funding programmes is to make it clear that health research *is* for NHS staff. And organisations like the RDSs exist to provide support and expertise, as well as provide links to HEIs, where needed.
I hope that’s a bit clearer! Thank you for pointing out the ambiguity.