North-South health research funding gap exposed

New analysis has exposed the persisting regional imbalance in health research funding between the North and the South.

29th February 2024

In 2022, the North received £405 million of research funding, compared to the £1.69 billion awarded to London, Oxford and Cambridge.

This equates to significant discrepancies in funding per person with the Greater South East receiving over two and a half times more per person than in the North – £68.58 compared to £25.72, respectively.

The Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) analysed data published by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration[i] which provides an overview of health research spending in the UK by charity and public sector organisations.

The analysis shows that since the last figures were published in 2018, the North has received an increase of £81 million, while the South received £200 million more.

It found that at the current rate of change, the total North-South funding allocation per head would not be the same until 2082.

The analysis also looked at the spending within combined authority regions in the North, London and Cambridge, as they will be from May 2024. It found:

Direct award funding for specific research projects [see Table 1 below for full regional breakdown]

  • All combined authorities in the North received less than half per person than what is spent in London and less than a sixth of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
  • In the North, Greater Manchester was awarded the most direct funding (£120,730,180 total/ £42.10 per person) however this was still significantly less than London (£900,808,268 total/ £102.37 per person) and Cambridgeshire (£302,210,841 total/ £337.85 per person).
  • Tees Valley received the least funding at £7,680,980, which is £11.34 per person.

Infrastructure funding [see Table 2 below for full regional breakdown]

  • No combined authority in the North comes close to receiving infrastructure investment on the level of London (£302,925,217) or Cambridge (£143,872,764).
  • Collectively, the northern Combined Authorities were awarded £48,934,215. There are individual buildings in London and Cambridge that received more infrastructure investment than the entire North.
  • The South Yorkshire, York and North Yorkshire and Tees Valley areas received the least.

Studentship funding [see Table 3 below for full regional breakdown]

  • Greater London received the most studentship funding at £26,050,188 (£2.96 per person), followed by Greater Manchester with £5,183,903 and Cambridge with £3,719,068. However, the per person spending shows that Manchester received less than half per person (£1.81) compared to Cambridge (£4.16).
  • In the North, Liverpool, York and North Yorkshire, and Tees Valley received the least studentship funding.

The NHSA is now urging government to increase health research investment in the North as an urgent priority. Evidence suggests that public investment in health research and innovation activities can improve health outcomes locally and stimulate economic growth, which in turn increases national productivity.

Dr Séamus O’Neill, NHSA Chief Executive, said: “Our analysis outlines the need for immediate action to address the continued lack of investment which is stifling economic growth in the UK and widening the North-South health divide.

“We know all too well that the North of England has some of the worst health outcomes in the UK. But with equal investment and the right level of support nationally, there’s an opportunity to begin to level the playing field and benefit the whole country.

“The North has world-leading universities, excellence and scale in NHS research capabilities and proven partnerships with industry. These collective strengths, if appropriately supported, would enable the North to operate at scale and compete globally. We hope that government recognise the potential of the North’s health research excellence and do what is needed to ensure a more fair and equitable spread of funding going forward.”

Dr Ben Martyn, Executive Lead for Investment and International Partnerships at the NHSA and author of the analysis, said: “Health research is increasingly shown to lead to better outcomes for patients locally and we know that the North has much greater health inequalities than our southern counterparts, so it makes sense to invest in research in the areas with the greatest need.

“It is clear from the findings of our analysis that the persistent gap in health research funding between the North and the South needs to be tackled head on by policymakers if they are truly committed to levelling up the North.

“The North is starting from such a disadvantage that only unprecedented investment will signal the step change that we so desperately need. We understand that it will take time to implement lasting change in this area but there are a range of measures which could go a long way to starting to address the imbalance.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “It’s clear that there’s a stark gap between previous promises made to level up the North and what’s actually been delivered. That a single building in London or the South East can receive more life sciences infrastructure investment from the Government than all of the Northern authorities combined is frankly disgraceful. There is a wealth of talent and innovation in the North, that deserves to be equally supported.

“We stand ready to support a rebalancing of life science investment. The new Manchester Baccalaureate will drive young people in Greater Manchester to qualify in key areas like research and development, providing them with a clear path to their chosen career but they need to know that the jobs will be there for them, if they are going to take opportunities like these. We’re ready to work with the Government to support a fairer reallocation of clinical research funding so that the whole country can support the UK to become a powerhouse for research innovation, not just one small region.”

The NHSA’s analysis report makes a series of recommendations which focus on utilising Combined Authorities, developing innovation clusters and reviewing the approach to national funding allocation. The recommendations are:

  1. Combined Authorities should be empowered to drive innovation, in partnership with private sector and charity funders, with funding pots to allocate into regional strengths as they see fit.
  2. Combined Authorities should have dedicated funding to support pan-regional projects in partnership with each other and ensure benefits can accrue outside of city regions.
  3. Northern leaders should look to engage the largest health charities, Wellcome, Cancer Research UK and BHF to ensure research takes place in regions with maximum benefit for the health of the nation.
  4. Pan-regional health and life science cluster organisations, like the NHSA, should be utilised, working in partnership with (mayoral) combined authorities and funders to enable the North to operate at scale and compete globally.
  5. UKRI should work with the NHSA to deploy development funding for the soft infrastructure required to facilitate and develop large pan-regional bids.
  6. New health and life science technology institutions should be created outside of London, the South East and East of England, based on regional expertise and with attracting additional private sector investment as a core goal.
  7. UKRI and NIHR should be held accountable to ensure research is conducted in areas with the highest health burden.
  8. The charity funders should consider geographic burden of disease in their funding criteria and aim to allocate funds in regions with higher burden. They should also consider how their allocations can stimulate local economies, further increasing the impact and return of their investments.
  9. DHSC and UKRI should create new funding and roles to support clinical research, innovation and entrepreneurial activities and prioritise the north for this funding.
  10. Government should re-affirm its commitment to increasing investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP and commit any additional uplift to regions outside the South East.

Read the NHSA’s ‘Analysis of the UK Clinical Research Landscape in 2022’ here:


Subscribe to our Newsletter