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Research Design Service

Origin of the Research Design Service

The NHS Research Design Services officially began work on October 1st 2008.

In December 2007, NIHR invited proposals from consortia to provide Research Design Services (RDS), seeking to make eight initial awards, one for each Strategic Health Authority (SHA) region excluding the North West and East Midlands where existing arrangements continued.

Newcastle and Durham Universities together with NHS partners submitted a successful bid, offering to provide regional coverage managed from two centres: Newcastle University (north) and Durham University Queen's Campus (south) with Dr Elaine McColl (Newcastle) as Director and Prof James Mason (Durham) as Co-Director. The initial award was for 5 years beginning in October 2008. The RDS across both sites would follow common operational procedures but be managed locally on a day-to-day basis.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) commissions and funds applied patient-focused research in health and social care, allocating funds transparently via open competition and peer review. It identified that applicants for the NIHR funds (such as the Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) programme) had a particular need for help with research design. Applications to RfPB were often formulated by NHS practitioners with less experience than their university counterparts in research design and applying for funding.

The RDS service was conceived to help researchers (from the NHS, Universities and other organisations) to prepare research proposals for submission to NIHR funding streams and other national bodies. The purpose was to increase the number and proportion of high quality of applications being received. Staff within the RDS would not be funded as part of the RDS contract to do research. However staff would be active in research maintaining their professional skills, with their own research and teaching portfolios.

In choosing two main sites for the RDS in the north-east the intention was to attain a critical mass of expertise at each site while providing a face-to-face service to users. It was anticipated that the RDS would hold ‘on-site surgeries' at local NHS organisations to enhance access, awareness of services and basic guidance on writing research proposals. However the RDS was not to be a training service and, when necessary, service users would be directed to available research methods courses provided by Universities and others within the region. Since the RDS in the north east was to be part of a new national service, it would liaise with counterparts to develop common processes and a consistent service to the research community.

Thus, RDS staff would integrate the range of sources of research advice into the service provided. This would include regional and national sources of research support such as RDInfo; National Research Ethics Advisors, Research Ethics Committees and the National Research Ethics Service; INVOLVE ; research networks and Comprehensive Local Research Networks, NHS R&D managers and R&D leads in SHAs, and research training at the capacity-building end of the spectrum (diplomas, MScs and PhDs).