Recent data  published in the journal Anaesthesia, comprising the first systematic analysis of UK anaesthetic research grant activity by the National Institute of Academic Anaesthesia (NIAA), highlights that while the organisation facilitated the award of £4.2 million of anaesthesia research grant funding between 2008 and 2015, UK anaesthesia receives significantly less research funding than other areas of study.
The study analysed 495 grant applications and NIAA awards over an eight-year period. It explored what the grant funding was designed to research, whether the funding led to publication, and the research impact factor. Authors found that UK academic anaesthesia has performed well given the relatively small amount of funding it receives, with an overall cost per publication of £14,970, compared to an average cost of £55,000 per publication across all medical specialties2. This represents superior value as the authors reflect that anaesthesia research accounts for less than 2 per cent of National Institute for Health Research studies . According to The Association of Medical Royal Colleges , mental and public health and neurological disorders comprise 15 per cent of studies, while cancer, cardiovascular and neurological research account for 70 per cent of charity-funded research.
The majority of grant applicants for NIAA funding were from England 80.4 per cent (398), with 12.3 per cent from Scotland (61), 4.8 per cent from Wales (24), 1.4 per cent from Ireland (7), 0.4 per cent from Northern Ireland (2), and 0.2 per cent (1) from Netherlands, New Zealand and USA. Most funding per national population went to Scotland (£13 per thousand population), and the least to Wales (£1 per thousand population). London accounted for both the largest number of applicants and the largest number of grants awarded. A total of 123 (82 per cent) grants were awarded to researchers in England, with London receiving 48 (32 per cent) of these. However, this was in proportion to the number of grant applications received by country or city of application, such that there was no significant difference in overall success rates.
The study found that NIAA grants seemed to be awarded equally, regardless of applicant gender, location, or subject of study. While more males than females submitted applications to the NIAA over the study period (76 per cent vs 24 per cent), gender had no effect on the likelihood of success (31.1 per cent vs. 27.7 per cent, respectively); this reflects the gender split within the anaesthetic workforce, where 32 per cent of consultants are female. Overall, the only prediction of grants being awarded was actually applying, with the most grants awarded to those who applied the most frequently.
The NIAA has awarded approximately £7 million since its establishment in 2008 to support, improve and deliver anaesthesia research. Most awards are to research project grants, although the NIAA has awarded 23 undergraduate, six doctoral and seven senior academic grants worth a total of £2.3 million.
Dr Andrew Klein, senior author of the research, said: “These findings from the first systematic analysis of anaesthesia research grant activity in the UK are crucial to understanding how funding, mostly from charitable sources, is granted. The results show that grants are awarded independent of who is applying and therefore suggest limited bias. This benchmarking process will provide a platform for funders to better understand what research is more likely to bring results in the field of science and, most importantly, to patients. What is clear is that funding for research into anaesthesia, perioperative care, pain and critical care is much lower than for other specialties, despite that fact that so many patients are looked after by anaesthetists each year.”
The study was published in the journal Anaesthesia and can be accessed here.
1. Analysis of the distribution and scholarly output from National Institute of Academic Anaesthesia (NIAA) research grants, K. El-Boghdadly, A.B Docherty, and A.A. Klein, Anaesthesia, April 2018: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/anae.14277
2. Association of Medical Research Charities. Making a difference: impact report 2017. London; 2017. https://www.researchmedia.com/amrc/making-a-difference-impact-report-2017/ (accessed 05/03/2018).
3. National Institute for Health Research. https://www.nihr.ac.uk. (accessed 08/01/2018).