Home Blog Comparing charitable and government funding across the medical research landscape

Comparing charitable and government funding across the medical research landscape

Published: 9 March 2016 By: Anonymous (not verified)

AMRC member charities invest £1.3bn in research here in the UK, accounting for over a third of all publicly-funded health and medical research. But what is all this money spent on? And how does research that is funded by charities compare to government-funded research? To help us answer this, the data team here at AMRC has taken an in-depth look at the datasets in the UKCRC Health Research Classification System (HRCS) 2014 report. In this blog we will showcase some of the findings from our analysis of the charitable grant dataset, and discuss some of the differences between the charity and government funding in the report.

But firstly, what does the report cover?

The report analyses the grants that were active in 2014, which was over 17,000 grants from 64 funding organisations, amounting to £3bn of spending. The funding organisations include 52 members of AMRC and twelve government bodies (including the Department of Health and devolved administration Health Departments and six research councils). Collectively, the report gives a comprehensive overview of the health and medical research finding landscape in the UK.

Want to take a further look at the data?

The dataset is open source and available here.

And what’s not in the report?

The report includes data from 37% of AMRC members, which accounts for 95% of the total AMRC member spend. It follows that while 67% of AMRC members did not participate in the analysis, their funding represents just 5% of the total amount provided by AMRC members.

Is it a concern that these smaller charities are somewhat underrepresented in the analysis? To answer this we compared the portfolios of charities in the report to those not included and found that on the whole, the charities in the report do represent the medical research charity sector: they have a similar distribution of funding in health categories and research activities, and account for the vast majority of spend.

So what does the data tell us about charitable funding in the medical research sector?

How research funding differs across the UK

Charities and the government bodies fund research across all regions of the UK. When looking at where the most funding occurs, we find both charitable and government funding is concentrated in the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Cambridge and Oxford.

Top five funding locations:

This chart shows where charitable funding is based. The larger bubbles represent the most spend. By hovering over the bubbles it is possible to see the total spend in each area.

Map of charitable funding in the UK:

Generally charitable funding follows the same pattern of distribution across geographical regions as government funding; however there are a few exceptions. In Nottingham, for example, we find the government invests £40m on research, but Nottingham attracts only £6m in charitable funding. Why the discrepancy? It’s mainly due to some large specialised institutes and units in Nottingham, such as the UK Biobank and the MRC Institute of Hearing Research which receive a greater proportion of funding from the government funding bodies.

Which disease areas receive research funding?

To perform the analysis, all the grants were assigned a code using the Health Research Classification System (HRCS) according to health category (e.g. cancer, cardiovascular) and research activity (e.g. prevention, treatment development).

Health category and charitable spend:

Health category and government spend:

Cancer is clearly a great focus for charities; they fund 74%­­­­ of all the cancer research in the analysis, and cancer research accounts for 38% of charitable spend, compared to only 8% of government spend.

The largest proportion of government funding is in ‘generic health relevance’; that is, research that is applicable to all disease and conditions, or to the general health and wellbeing of individuals. Charities invest a much smaller proportion of their funding in generic health relevance (13% of funding), which makes sense, because many AMRC member charities have a specific disease or condition which they focus on.

Number of charities funding in each health category:

When we looked at the number of charities funding in each health category, we found  neurological research had the more funders (28/52) than any other health category, even though it only accounts for 8% of the total spend. We think this is because there is a link between neurological research and many other health categories (e.g. mental health, eye and ear research which often include diseases that are linked to the ‘wiring’ of the brain), even though it only represents a small proportion of the funding in each of those charities.

What types of research activity are funded?

Research activity and charitable spend:

Research activity and government spend:

Charitable funding clusters around discovery/laboratory research whereas government funding is more evenly distributed across all research activities (with each receiving at least 5% of funding). Due to the differences in focus, the two streams complement each other across the research activity profiles from discovery to translation, implementation and health services research. This complementarity argument is one which has been core to many of our discussions with policy makers and in our submission to the Treasury for the 2015 spending review.

In looking within particular health categories, some research types do receive less funding compared to others and this can vary between health categories. In cancer research, for example, when looking at both charity and government funding, there is a large focus on aetiology; treatment detection and treatment evaluation; and detection and diagnosis, and yet very little investment in funding in prevention, disease management and health services research. 

Research activity funding in cancer research:

Rather than overpowering this blog with more graphs, if you would be interested in the breakdown of research activities in a certain health category then just get in touch with Rachel Burden and she will be happy to send you any information.

Next steps

These data enable AMRC to produce a picture of the overall funding landscape in health and medical research, and helps us to understand the part the charity sector plays. So far we have used it to create documents like our infographic, annual review and for use by our policy team.

However what most funders really want to know is much more specific information about how their data fits in with the rest of the national and international health research funding landscape. In our next blog we will discuss how charities can use the HRCS coded data to analyse their own portfolio and highlight why it can be so useful.