An example of working with the NIHR HTA Programme

PSPs have benefitted from contacting the NIHR’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, via the JLA, to discuss which of their research priorities are in remit for funding from that programme and working together with the HTA team to create potentially fundable research questions.  When working with PSPs, the HTA team has also identified areas of specific interest where it would be keen to fund more research, so that the PSP can focus on the questions from its priority list in these areas. 

The purpose and remit of the HTA Programme is to deliver information about the effectiveness, costs and broader impact of healthcare treatments and tests for those who plan, provide or receive care in the NHS.  Health technologies include all interventions used to promote health, prevent or treat disease, improve rehabilitation or long-term care including drugs, devices, procedures, settings of care and screening.

The core elements that the HTA Programme needs to identify (with help from the PSP if necessary) when creating research questions for potential commissioning are:

  • Population (what is the population of interest?)
  • Intervention (what are the interventions of interest?)
  • Comparison (what are the comparisons of interest?)
  • Outcome (what are the outcomes of interest?).

A good research question for the HTA Programme to consider is:

  • Important to the NHS and its patients
  • Supported by current evidence
  • Of high scientific quality
  • Feasible
  • Timely (ie, research will continue to be relevant following completion of a study which may take many years to publish.  It may be felt that changes in practice will overtake the results of any study which would therefore not be relevant by the time it is finished and published)
  • Clear and well-defined (able to be worked into PICO format by researchers in collaboration with the PSP)
  • Represents value for public money.

Stumbling blocks that the HTA Programme reports when working with suggested research questions from any source, including JLA PSPs, are:

  • The challenge of questions that are either too broad, and therefore need more work to define what the most important component of the question is, or are already too specific
  • The feasibility of answering the suggested research question
  • Defining what current standard practice or care is
  • Existing ongoing research, either in the NIHR portfolio or from other funders, which overlaps with the question, meaning that more research is unlikely to be funded at this moment in time
  • The relative importance of the question compared to other disease areas.

There is more information online about the HTA Programme and other NIHR research funding programmes.  Some other programmes work with and advertise much broader questions for commissioning than the HTA, focussing less on creating a PICO.  You can also search the NIHR Journals Library website for examples of research already funded in a PSP’s area of interest.