In the final quarter of 2021, The UKRD Clinical Directors Working Group ran a survey amongst NHS R&D Clinical Directors. The aim of the survey was to better understand the setup, needs and challenges of R&D Clinical Directors and their research centres in order to share the wider insights with the research leadership community.


The survey received 28 responses from R&D Clinical Directors across the UK. 7% of respondents were from Acute Trusts, 7% from Mental Health Trusts and 15% from specialist organisations. The survey covered 5 topic areas:

  1. Organisation and research income
  2. R&D leadership
  3. R&D visibility and successes
  4. Career development
  5. Making the change

A number of the learnings, while not a surprise, are important to have confirmed – and some insights give us pause for thought. In this article we share insights that answer the following questions:

  1. How do research roles and organisations differ?
  2. What can we do to add value in terms of research?
  3. What is the ambition, personally for individuals and their organisations, and for UKRD?

Organisational variables

The way in which a Clinical Director operates is hugely variable across organisations. There is no ‘one size fits all’ description for the position.

  • INCOME – There is an enormous range in terms of research income for an organisation – this includes commercial income as well as CRN income. Total annual income varies from £450 thousand to £46 million.
  • TIME – The time allocation for the R&D Clinical Directors role also varies, some have very limited time, and some have over half their time dedicated.
  • EXPERIENCE – The time Clinical Directors spend in the post also varies. Some spend as little as 10 months in the role, whereas some have held it for 20 years.

What does this tell us? You cannot compare one organisation with another. But it does demonstrate where we can tap into an organisation that has more experience for buddying, mentoring and advice.

Adding value to research

R&D Directors were questioned about what they feel the recent successes in research are and how it benefits the NHS.

  1. R&D Directors believe research enhances clinical care by giving patients access to high quality research. They are really passionate about this point as people in research tend to get access to the best treatments earlier.
  2. They see research as way to secure additional income for NHS organisations that are cash strapped – it is a strong source of revenue.
  3. Research is a good way of binding clinicians to universities. It can be a good leveller to make sure everyone is in it together, acting as a bridge between clinical care and academia.
  4. People feel that research is a good way of adding meaning to a strategic document. Like clinical care or teacher training, research has meaning for individuals, socialising a Trust Strategy for the workforce.

Research ambition

UKRD asked the respondents to outline their personal ambition as R&D Directors as well as their ambitions for their organisations.

From a personal perspective there were varying career aspirations; the four that stood out were: 

  1. Being happy with your current role – and therefore continuing in it.
  2. Providing a way to develop an academic career.
  3. Seeing it as a steppingstone to an Executive Director post.
  4. Retirement and succession planning for when you step down (which speaks to people’s values).

In terms of ambitions for their organisation:

  • They want to promote research to all Trust members, especially the Executives, to enhance visibility (working on those with moderate/low visibility).
  • They want to build a resilient research team. Not just because of Covid19 – but with a focus on how they can keep running to make sure they deliver on the areas they want to.

R&D Clinical Directors’ relationship with UKRD

The final part of the survey focussed on the value R&D Directors take from UKRD and how it can be improved.

Of those questioned, 60% felt they had strong engagement with UKRD – this is a good start, but there is still a way to go to reach all UK Clinical R&D Directors.

UKRD is valued for its updates, networking, peer support and a national voice, especially with the DHSC.

Areas for improvement include:

  • Induction for new R&D Directors
  • Combination of face-to-face and virtual meetings
  • Stronger links with industry
  • Far more UK wide engagement, rather than just England.
Outgoing Joint Chair of the UKRD Clinical Directors Group, Dr Nav Ahluwalia, concludes:
‘I step down from UKRD at the end of March 2022 and having established this Working Group, I leave the community with this advice: Please use UKRD to promote research in your own organisations and nationally because no one else is going to do it on our behalf. The whole country knows the value of research now, we can never go back, because research engages, empowers and treats patients - it adds job satisfaction to a weary workforce.’
Dr Nav Ahluwalia
Director of Research, RDaSH NHS Foundation Trust

UKRD would like to thank the R&D Clinical Directors who participated in this survey for sharing your insights and for your valuable time.

Thanks also go to the Working Group Chairs and the UKRD team for delivering this survey and analysing the results:

  • Dr Nav Ahluwalia – Executive Medical Director and Director of Research, RDaSH NHS Foundation Trust, UKRD Clinical Directors Working Group Co Chair
  • Prof Nick Hart – Director of R&D at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, UKRD Clinical Directors Working Group Co Chair
  • Christine McGrath – Director of Strategy and Partnerships, University Hospital Southampton NHSFT, founder and Chair of UKRD
  • Louise Ward – Business Administration Manager, Executive Assistant to Directors of R&D at University Hospital Southampton NHSFT