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UKCRC Health Research Classification System

Use of the HRCS

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Who uses the HRCS?

The HRCS has been used extensively in the UK, primarily among those funders that have participated in the quinquennial analysis series. Many now routinely classify all awards under HRCS, for both internal reporting and for reports in the public domain. Several funders also make their awards, and corresponding HRCS coding, publicly available (e.g. MRC awards via Gateway to Research, and NIHR via Journals Library).

As an open source classification system the HRCS is not restricted to the UK alone, and a number of research organisations have taken the HRCS for use internationally. However it is presently hard to track the who, where, how of this use is applied.

HRCS in routine reporting

The HRCS adoption by many UK funding organisations ensures it features in many annual reports or policy documents. Examples include:

Use of UK Health Research Analysis reports and datasets

This page is dedicated to use of the HRCS outside of the core report series. This use can vary considerably, from reports from funders who have participated in the analysis series to external organisations using HRCS-coded funder data to perform more elaborate analyses.

For citations and onward use of the public datasets from our main UK Health Research Analyses, please visit our Reports section.

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HRCS in strategy and policy

Review of the Health Systems Research Initiative

In 2021, Technopolis Ltd was commissioned to conduct an independent, external review of the Health Systems Research Initiative (HSRI) by its funders; the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Wellcome Trust. The aim was to understand the impact of the programme, its potential for future impact, and inform the design of future funding programmes. The HRCS was used to show the range of activities supported by the HSRI and compare full and foundation award types.

NIHR review of the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) programme

In November 2021, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) published  A 10-year impact assessment of the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) programme. This report made extensive use of HRCS coding to show the distribution of EME awards by both Health Category and Research Activity, comparing funding against UK DALY scores and other funders in the 2018 analysis.

Wellcome Review of Science 2020

In 2020 Wellcome published a landmark review of the way it supports science. The review includes a survey of 2,000 people from the research community and an analysis of the funding landscape. This included using HRCS data to compare the distribution of basic and translational research of Wellcome’s award portfolio to other UK and international research funders. 

MRC use of HRCS to facilitate in-depth analyses

The MRC has been routinely using classification by HRCS as a mechanism to build portfolios since 2006. More recently, the MRC’s use of this extensive classification has been used to facilitate deeper dives into their data, first into translational research and then prevention research.

In 2019, the MRC published a report on 10 years of translational research funding. A key component to this assessment was the use of HRCS to identify awards with translational intent outside of the already known strategic translational calls/schemes. This use of HRCS to ‘pre-filter’ extensive award data was used again in 2021, when assessing the landscape of prevention research alongside partners from the UK Prevention Research Partnership.

National Audit Office highlights HRCS as an example of inter-funder coordination

In 2017, the National Audit Office’s report on Cross-government funding of research and development highlighted the HRCS and it’s use in nationwide landscape reporting as a effective exemplar of where funders have categorised research activities, developed a coherent picture of the funding landscape and used this to direct their investment (see case study on page 38).

Medical Research: What’s it worth? Estimating the economic benefits from medical research in the UK

This report commissioned in 2008 by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and Academy of Medical Sciences demonstrated major financial and social benefits from investment in medical research. The report also made a number of recommendations for future consideration, including the adoption of a standardised way of classifying research funding, citing the HRCS as an example. More information on the “What’s it worth?” report series can be found here.

A review of UK health research funding – Sir David Cooksey (December 2006)

In March 2006, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State for Health and Trade and Industry invited Sir David Cooksey to undertake an independent review to advise on the best design and institutional arrangements for the public funding of health research in the UK. The primary data source for this review was the HRCS data from the UK Health Research Analysis 2004/05.

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HRCS: International Use

As an open source classification system the HRCS is not restricted to the UK alone, and a number of research organisations have taken the HRCS for use internationally. Examples of this include:

  • European Science Foundation recommending HRCS as international standard. In a policy briefing paper from 2011 the ESF reviewed a number of biomedical funding classification systems (OECD, ANZSRC, RCDC, MeSH, CSO and HRCS) and concluded that the use of the HRCS is encouraged as the leading approach for comparison and joint analysis of specifically health research portfolio information.
  • The US Health Research Alliance has 75 charitable and philanthropic members that fund health research many have contributed grant data to a new HRA Reporter database which is coded using the HRCS, and is used in their wider reporting on health research.
  • Presentations at international conferences including at EuroCRIS in 2013. Founded in 2002, EuroCRIS is an international not-for-profit association, that brings together experts on research information in general and research information systems (CRIS) in particular.

In particular, the Research Council of Norway and Norwegian Ministry of Health use the HRCS in many reporting processes, including:

  • Classification of scientific publication by the Health Research Classification System (HRCS). A pilot study (Nordic Institute for Studies of Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) 2016, in Norwegian) – link here
  • Presented at the 21st Nordic workshop on bibliometrics and research policy, Copenhagen 2016 (slides and abstract in English) – link here
  • HelseOmsorg 21 monitor programme is an analysis of health research in Norway conducted by the Norweigan Research Council on behalf of the Ministry of Health. It combines data from the Research Council of Norway, Regional Health Authorities, the Cancer Society and EU health funding in Norway.

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HRCS in Journal Publications

A selection of publications that reference the HRCS can be found on publication databases like Europe PubMed.

These include:

  • Vukugah et al. (2022). Research Questions and Priorities for Pediatric Tuberculosis: A Survey of Published Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. Tuberc Res Treat 1155/2022/1686047
  • Perrin et al. (2021). Establishing the national top 10 priority research questions to improve diabetes-related foot health and disease: a Delphi study of Australian stakeholders. BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care 1136/bmjdrc-2021-002570
  • Gómez-Cebrián et al. (2021). Pharmacometabolomics by NMR in Oncology: A Systematic Review. Pharmaceuticals 3390/ph14101015
  • Hesselberg et al. (2021). Individual versus general structured feedback to improve agreement in grant peer review: a randomized controlled trial. Res Integr Peer Rev 1186/s41073-021-00115-5
  • Crowe et al. (2021). Are we asking the right questions? Working with the LGBTQ+ community to prioritise healthcare research themes. Res Involv Engagem 1186/s40900-021-00298-7
  • Cody et al. (2021). Funders’ responsibility to ensure value in research: a self-audit by the Health Research Board Ireland. HRB Open Res 12688/hrbopenres.13224.1
  • Gallo et al. (2020). Biomedical and health research: an analysis of country participation and research fields in the EU’s Horizon 2020. Eur J Epidemiol 1007/s10654-020-00690-9
  • Morciano et al. (2020). An analysis of the strategic plan development processes of major public organisations funding health research in nine high-income countries worldwide. Health Res Policy Syst 1186/s12961-020-00620-x
  • Clyne et al. (2020). Quality, scope and reporting standards of randomised controlled trials in Irish Health Research: an observational study. Trials 1186/s13063-020-04396-x
  • Masefield et al. (2020). Repurposing NGO data for better research outcomes: a scoping review of the use and secondary analysis of NGO data in health policy and systems research. Health Res Policy Syst   1186/s12961-020-00577-x
  • Kvalem et al. (2020). A complete overview of the PhD theses within the field of medicine and health science in Norway in 2018 by using the Health Research Classification System (HRCS). Research Square 21203/rs.2.24802/v1
  • Woelbert et al. (2019). How much is spent on mental health research: developing a system for categorising grant funding in the UK. The Lancet Psychiatry 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30033-1 – note a methodology version of this report is available via the AMRC open research repository.
  • Goodwin et al. (2019). Intervention development and treatment success in UK health technology assessment funded trials of physical rehabilitation: a mixed methods analysis. BMJ Open 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026289
  • Mollan et al. (2019). What are the research priorities for idiopathic intracranial hypertension? A priority setting partnership between patients and healthcare professionals. BMJ Open 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026573
  • Chinnery et al. (2018). National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme research funding and UK burden of disease. Trials 10.1186/s13063-018-2489-7
  • Glover et al. (2018). Estimating the returns to United Kingdom publicly funded musculoskeletal disease research in terms of net value of improved health outcomes. Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/s12961-017-0276-7
  • Finer et al. (2018). Setting the top 10 research priorities to improve the health of people with Type 2 diabetes: a Diabetes UK-James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership. Diabetic Medicine 10.1111/dme.13613
  • Blackburn et al. (2018). The extent, quality and impact of patient and public involvement in primary care research: a mixed methods study. Research Involvement and Engagement 10.1186/s40900-018-0100-8
  • Conroy et al. (2017). A cohort examination to establish reporting of the remit and function of Trial Steering Committees in randomised controlled trials. Trials 10.1186/s13063-017-2300-1
  • Sussex et al. (2016). Quantifying the economic impact of government and charity funding of medical research on private research and development funding in the United Kingdom. BMC Med 10.1186/s12916-016-0564-z
  • Hall et al. (2016). Research funding for addressing tobacco-related disease: an analysis of UK investment between 2008 and 2012. BMJ Open 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011609
  • Roh et al. (2016). Mental health services and R&D in South Korea. Int J Ment Health Syst 10.1186/s13033-016-0077-3
  • Viergever et al. (2016). The 10 largest public and philanthropic funders of health research in the world: what they fund and how they distribute their funds. Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/s12961-015-0074-z
  • Carter et a. (2016).  UK health research analyses and the benefits of shared data. Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/s12961-016-0116-1
  • Guegan et al. (2016). Mapping public health research across the National Institute for Health Research 2006-2013. BMC Public Health 10.1186/s12889-016-3521-z
  • Adams et al. (2015). Ethical considerations in malaria research proposal review: empirical evidence from 114 proposals submitted to an Ethics Committee in Thailand. Malar J 10.1186/s12936-015-0854-5
  • Kinge et al. (2014). Are the Norwegian health research investments in line with the disease burden? Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/1478-4505-12-64
  • Nicolau et al. (2012). Research questions and priorities for tuberculosis: a survey of published systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PLoS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0042479
  • Turner et al. (2012). Predicting the extent of heterogeneity in meta-analysis, using empirical data from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Int J Epidemiol 10.1093/ije/dys041
  • Terry et al. (2012). Mapping global health research investments, time for new thinking–a Babel Fish for research data. Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/1478-4505-10-28
  • Collins (2011). A ten-year audit of traditional Chinese medicine and other natural product research published in the Chinese Medical Journal (2000-2009). Chin Med J (Engl) PMID:21740755
  • Conceição et al. (2011). Public health research systems in the European union. Health Res Policy Syst 10.1186/1478-4505-9-38
  • Davey et al. (2011). Characteristics of meta-analyses and their component studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: a cross-sectional, descriptive analysis.BMC Med Res Methodol 10.1186/1471-2288-11-160
  • Kubiak et al. (2009). Common definition for categories of clinical research: a prerequisite for a survey on regulatory requirements by the European Clinical Research Infrastructures Network (ECRIN). Trials 10.1186/1745-6215-10-95
  • Ahmed et al. (2010). Mapping Postgraduate Research at the University of Zambia: a review of dissertations for the Master of Medicine Programme. Med J Zambia PMC3604980
  • Mayor (2006). Report gives snapshot health research funding in the UK. BMJ 10.1136/bmj.332.7552.1230-a

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