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Report 01/63

Research in nursing and allied health professions

Report of the Task Group 3 to HEFCE and the Department of Health

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Of interest to those responsible for: Research funding; departments dedicated to or incorporating nursing, midwifery, health visiting or allied health professions within HEIs; those within the Department of Health or other organisations concerned with research in departments of the type described above.
Reference: 01/63
Publication date: November 2001
Enquiries to: Tom Sastry, tel 0117 931 7458, e-mail

Contents and executive summary (read on-line)

Please note that references in this document to the CPNR/CHEMS report 'Promoting research in nursing and professions allied to medicine' refer in fact to 'Promoting research in nursing and the allied health professions', which is available on the HEFCE web-site as HEFCE 01/64.


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Executive summary

Part one: The current situation

1 Background

2 The current funding system

3 The case for health professions research

4 Problems of supply and demand

5 Potential for improvement

Part two: Supporting development

6 Establishing a new fund, its duration and governance

7 Career development and research opportunities

8 Interdisciplinarity and collaboration


Annex A Summary of recommendations

Annex B Task Group 3: membership and terms of reference

Annex C Proposals for a capacity-building fund for research in nursing and allied health professions

Annex D Stages of enhancing research

Annex E Data sources for Figures 1 and 2

Annex F Glossary

Executive summary


1. This report presents the findings and recommendations of Task Group 3, a working group set up jointly by the HEFCE and the Department of Health. Our remit was to explore ways of better enabling the research base to contribute to knowledge and the delivery of health services, by nurses and members of the allied health professions (AHPs) [note 1].

Key points

2. The recommendations cover all research relevant to nursing and AHPs regardless of whether it is undertaken by members of the professions concerned. These are summarised in Annex A.

3. Our examination of the current funding system for health professions research (Chapter 2) shows that it is characterised by two types of underfunding:

  • underfunding relative to comparable professions: education research receives 4.5 times as much funding as nursing research. For some AHPs both research capacity and funding are scarcely measurable
  • underfunding relative to the size of the professions: only 3.9 per cent of nursing academics are defined as research staff, whereas there are 1,600 nurses for every researcher whose salary costs are supported through funding council research grant.

4. Funding is also skewed towards short-term projects. There is a shortage of funding for the type of co-ordinated programme funding and follow-up work associated with projects supported by processes dependent upon peer review, such as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This may be responsible for the perception that researchers have to choose between targeting either 'RAE research' or 'NHS research'.

5. We argue that this is dangerous: it is important that high quality research is encouraged - whether blue skies, or research of the most immediate applicability - and that all types of research develop alongside each other. Only this approach will develop the knowledge base while developing the capacity to produce high quality research to inform practice.

6. We consider that there is a compelling case for research relevant to nursing and allied health professions (Chapter 3). This is based on the needs to:

  • ensure that higher education institutions (HEIs) are able to train research-aware professionals
  • facilitate research awareness for practitioners and administrators, to support evidence-based practice and policy
  • understand the research priorities and needs of the health service
  • enable specific interventions or specific approaches and phenomena to be evaluated
  • establish the knowledge base and ensure that there is scope to undertake underpinning work informing directly applicable research.

7. The historic lack of research funding for nursing and AHPs has had a debilitating effect (Chapter 4). However, there is now a consensus for action to develop research capacity, embracing not only the HEFCE and the DH but Research Councils, research charities and representatives of the professions themselves.

8. We maintain that the research base has the potential to deliver improvement provided that there is additional support (Chapter 5). We note that the following indicators are all improving, although in most cases from a very low base:

  • RAE ratings
  • numbers of research-active staff submitted to the RAE
  • levels of research income
  • postgraduate student numbers
  • collaborations with researchers in other disciplines.

9. In the absence of development funding, it is unlikely that it will be economic for HEIs to maintain this improvement to the point where it becomes self-sustaining.

10. Our main recommendation for delivering improvement is the establishment of a fund to develop and expand the capacity for high quality research in nursing and AHPs (Chapter 6 and Annex C).

11. The purpose of such a fund should be to develop capacity in priority areas - not as a primary aim, to fund specific research projects; however in pursuit of this aim it might support research projects as well as research posts or infrastructure projects.

12. We suggest that such a fund be controlled by a governing board, which would decide on funding priorities. We envisage that this governing board would be expected to meet specific performance targets over the period of its planned existence, which we suggest should be not less than seven years.

13. We also recommend that efforts are made by the governing board, together with other funders, to co-ordinate funding priorities.

14. We envisage the governing board having the freedom to review its funding priorities and to allocate resources in whatever way it feels is most likely to satisfy its objectives.

15. There is a need to support career development and research opportunities for health professions researchers, teacher researchers and clinician-researchers (Chapter 7). The proposed fund has a role in supporting research training and research career development, and we consider there are other activities that require investment either from the fund or from some other source.

16. We consider that it is essential that teachers in HEIs are familiar with research techniques and where possible are active researchers.

17. We argue that Workforce Development Confederations should fund the following as part of their support for the development of an appropriately qualified teaching workforce:

  • PhD opportunities for staff employed by HEIs whose posts are funded for teaching through Multi-Professional Education and Training (MPET) funds
  • some time for staff employed in HEIs, whose posts are funded by MPET, to undertake research.

18. Our analysis suggests that the new fund is likely to support the following activities, unless the governing board is satisfied through the co-ordinating mechanisms that they are adequately supported:

  • PhD opportunities for newly qualified staff and other non-MPET funded candidates
  • full-time post-doctoral research posts
  • time for research for academic staff in clinical posts
  • provision for experienced research staff (research leaders) to be 'bought out' of clinical and/or teaching duties to supervise, lead and otherwise pursue research.

19. Funding for capital items should fall within the remit of the proposed fund (but not necessarily exclusively so).

20. We believe in the importance of promoting collaboration between health professions and research departments, and in interdisciplinary arrangements drawing in researchers from other traditions (Chapter 8). We recommend that a portion of the fund be earmarked to develop research networks and structures for dissemination within and beyond the academic setting.

21. We reject the notion that funders should attempt to direct a concentration of research activity into a few centres of excellence. We do however consider that grants from the proposed fund should be allocated on the basis of quality not simply fitness for purpose.

22. We are confident that, by recognising and rewarding quality, these proposals will provide scope for the best centres to compete internationally in their areas of strength, and are clear that funding arrangements should provide them with the means to do so. At the same time, our proposals envisage the development of research capacity beyond centres that are currently strong.

1. See glossary for definition of allied health professions.