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Research Advisory Group terms of reference 2020 - 2021


NHS Digital, legally known as the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), was established on 01 April 2013 as an executive non-departmental public body (ENDPB) under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. 

In collaboration with the research community NHS Digital has constituted a Research Advisory Group (RAG). The Research Advisory Group, hosted by NHS Digital, brings the research and life sciences community together to make better use of NHS Digital’s data and services. 

In a fast-moving world of generating new knowledge from data, being at the leading edge is of mutual benefit to the research community and NHS Digital as well as the wider UK economy, in better understanding diseases and find ways to prevent, treat and cure them.

In a public sector where resources are not infinite but limited, the need for synergies, mutual support and avoidance of duplication are expected behaviours from the public we serve.

These terms of reference describe both the key functions that a combined commitment can deliver and the optimum structure to enable that to happen.


The purpose of the group is to create a synergistic strategic partnership where researchers can deliver better research quicker using high quality NHS Digital data to improve the health of patients and the population and NHS Digital can improve its data and data services whilst demonstrating trustworthiness to the public.

The Research Advisory Group will be the ‘intelligent customer’ representing research and life sciences and advising NHS Digital. Key aims:

  • NHS Digital will share its strategy for research and life sciences (“NHS Digital strategy”), with the purpose of working collaboratively with Members to iterate, shape direction and delivery. NHS Digital will ensure transparency in sharing performance in key areas
  • Members will provide insight on the needs of researchers and life sciences; supporting the translation of these into requirements for NHS Digital
  • Guests will provide information and insight which stimulates discussion relevant to NHS Digital strategy and,
  • Sub-group/ leads of initiatives will support the ‘task and finish’ approach of RAG to ensure that areas identified as priorities for action are progressed and / or completed. NHS Digital and members should actively support these activities

Duties and obligations

The group is empowered to provide strategic leadership and challenge in an open and transparent forum that conforms to NHS Digital values.

1.1 Terms of reference

The terms of reference will be reviewed and updated whenever necessary; and as a minimum on an annual basis to coincide with the start of the financial year. 


The group requires a mixture of members of the research and life sciences community, NHS Digital executive and Non-executive board members, and senior government officials who have notable experience and expertise in this domain. The full membership and rationale are set out in Appendix A.

The period of tenure for members of the group is usually a minimum of 2 years. This is at the discretion of the co-chairs.

1.2 Composition

The full membership is listed in Appendix A. It includes:

  • a chair or co-chairs member representation from research and life sciences
  • the RAG secretariat
  • NHS Digital executive director(s), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department and Health and Social Care (DHSC) (or delegates of their choosing) - that are expected to attend all meetings;
  • the sponsorship team (representatives from DHSC, MRC, ESRC and NHS Digital) – which with the secretariat will be responsible for making arrangements and attending all meetings
  • National Data Guardian representative and
  • guests and observers may be invited to attend at the discretion of the chair

1.3 Quorum

There is no minimum attendance for the group as it is an advisory and not a formal decision- making body.

1.4 Member responsibilities

Members are responsible for:

  • preparing for meetings by reading papers in advance and forwarding any other business to the secretariat
  • providing expertise and contribution to support relevant initiatives – at and outside of meetings – members will be aligned to key strategy areas and initiatives where they should provide guidance and support to those undertaking tasks
  • bringing relevant issues to the attention of the group and inputting to the forward business schedule of agenda items
  • promoting and advocating the group to key stakeholders
  • ensuring discussions are collaborative, constructive and clear
  • fulfilling assigned actions by the due deadlines and
  • contributing to RAG communication activities where appropriate


1.5 Research Advisory Group chair(s) and sponsorship team

The Research Advisory Group Co-Chair(s) are nominated by the MRC and the DHSC.

The tenure of the Chair(s) will be reviewed at a minimum on an annual basis and will be confirmed at the start of the financial year.

A RAG sponsorship team will contain representatives from DHSC, MRC, ESRC and NHS Digital – nominees will be advised by each organisation on an ongoing basis.  The RAG sponsorship team will support the development of the RAG agenda and chairs briefing. Both will be completed around five weeks prior to the meeting date for chair review and finalisation.

1.6 Forum secretariat

The RAG’s secretariat will be provided by the office of NHS Digital’s sponsor executive director.

1.6.1   Secretariat responsibilities

The secretariat will ensure that:

  • meeting times, locations and facilities have been arranged
  • a current list of members is centrally maintained
  • the agendas and supporting materials are circulated to members a minimum of 5 working days in advance of the meeting
  • actions from the group are accurately captured and tracked to completion 
  • summaries of minutes are drafted and finalised via the chairs, executive sponsor and RAG sponsorship team, and
  • the group’s documents are managed as per NHS Digital’s records management policies and procedures and are accessible to members on request

1. 7 Communication of RAG

Working collaboratively with RAG member organisations, NHS Digital will lead the approach to communicating the work of RAG. This will include: 

  • ensuring relevant and timely content is available for the NHS Digital RAG web page 
  • establishing a clear mechanism to propagate consistent messages to all the organisations that comprise RAG
  • timely communication of RAG’s activities with other stakeholders in this environment; and
  • a member of NHS Digitals communications team attending RAG meetings

Meeting frequency and composition

1.8 Frequency 

The group shall meet quarterly. There will usually be four meetings in a calendar year.

1.9 Agenda 

The chair(s) is responsible for approving the agenda of items to be discussed at each group meeting.

The agenda will contain:

  • Standing items – for example, to review the previous meeting minutes
  • Information items – for example to share information relevant to the group. Where this is provided by external guests it is anticipated that RAG would usually have no more item per meeting; and
  • Input items - requiring discussion/ a decision / support for direction

It is anticipated that most of the agenda will contain Input items - the agenda will ensure that these are prioritised with adequate time for discussion.  To support this

  • pre-reading documents will provide all relevant information and key questions for discussion. Presenters should leave adequate discussion time within their allocated time slots
  • all presentations and other pre-reading documents and a cover sheet are required by the secretariat 10 working days in advance of the meeting to allow for review adjustment
  • all meeting documents will be issued no less than 5 working days before the meeting.

1.10 Record of meetings

The secretariat will produce a summary of the minute of proceedings

Draft minutes will be shared for chair review within 15 working days of the meeting; upon review completion they will be shared with members as ‘draft pending ratification at the next RAG meeting’.  To ensure progress against actions, draft actions will be shared with owners within 5 working days of each meeting.

Reporting and relationships

1.11 Alignment with the UK Health Data Research Alliance and other collaborative initiatives

To ensure interactions are maximised and the avoidance of duplication of effort, the Research Advisory Group membership, agenda, activities and meeting schedules will be aligned with the HDR UK Health Alliance.

There will also be alignment to promote collaborative working between Public Health England, the Clinical Practice Research Datalink and the National Institute of Health Research’s (NIHR).

There will also be appropriate consideration of other work stream’s with significant touch points to the RAG, including, but not limited to, the wider agenda of Health Data Research UK, the MRC Regulatory Support Centre and Understanding Patient Data.

1.12 Research Advisory Group sub-groups

The Research Advisory Group will put in place relevant subgroups to deliver various tasks and ongoing work streams as necessary.

Appendix A Research Advisory Group members

Last edited: 8 December 2021 9:38 am