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Policy Research Programme - Health Protection Modelling

Published

10 May 2022

Version

1.0 - May 2022

Contents

This document provides guidance on completing an application for stage 1 of the NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) call for Health Protection Modelling.  

Timetable and Budget

Description

Deadline/Limit

Deadline for Stage 1 Applications

14 June 2022 , 1 PM

Notification of outcome of Stage 1 Application

August 2022 

Deadline for Stage 2 application

28 September 2022 , 1 PM

Notification of outcome of Stage 2 Application

December 2022 – January 2023

Project Start

January 2023

Budget

£900,000

Introduction 

The National Institute for Health and Care Research Policy Research Programme (NIHR PRP) invites applications to provide a programme of modelling to address two key areas:

  • dynamical disease and health economic modelling relating to the national vaccination programme. This will provide an alternative or ‘second’ opinion to and run parallel with, that provided by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
  • modelling of other infectious diseases that lie outside the immunisation programme.

This programme will provide a responsive dynamic resource to augment the analytical support currently provided within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which contributes towards the development of infectious disease and immunisation policy. The contract will be to provide modelling as prioritised and required by DHSC and the work programme will be overseen and managed by DHSC. Capacity to work flexibly and provide support as part of future emergency responses e.g. pandemics is crucial. 

Background 

Policy decisions relating to the introduction of new vaccines and changes to existing vaccine schedules are based on advice given by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) following their consideration of evidence about the safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness. As these are very significant spending decisions, it is vital that they are backed up by robust evidence from epidemiological and infectious disease modelling studies. 

Research priorities

Modelling of vaccination

The programme will concentrate on the provision of an alternative, independent stream of modelling and analysis to support vaccine policy.

As approximations of the real world, uncertainty is an inherent part of any piece of modelling work; choices such as the modelling approach, model structure and input parameters have a great impact on the results. Infectious disease models often have to capture highly complex disease dynamics, and decisions based on them can have significant health and financial consequences. 

To address this, the programme will provide DHSC with an alternative view or “second opinion” on the impact of changes to, or the introduction of vaccination programme which are particularly high cost, complicated, or have significant public interest. The use of multiple models was identified by the Review of Quality Assurance of Government Models (otherwise known as ‘The Macpherson review’ [1]) as best practice for complex and high-risk models. The availability of an alternative view will considerably increase DHSC’s and Minister’s confidence in vaccination policy decisions.

The construction of the alternative model or analysis will be solely a matter for the programme research team. The intention is not simply to ‘check’ UKHSA’s results but also to consider the impact of different assumptions, modelling approaches and model structures. Where UKHSA and alternative models agree, this will provide additional confidence in the results, where they differ this will lead to further investigation.

The programme could include any vaccination policies considered by DHSC. For example, health protection modelling has proved extremely useful throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response, providing evidence to the JCVI and DHSC to inform policy decisions on vaccination, including:

  • to inform priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination;
  • to inform the optimum interval between doses;
  • the epidemiological benefits of boosters and vaccination of adolescents.

It is unclear the extent to which the programme will focus on COVID-19 vaccination policies, though it is likely that it will form at least some of the research programme. 

Modelling of other infectious diseases

Health Protection often involves the mitigation of problems generated by infectious diseases that are not addressable by the standard immunisation programme. This includes emergency planning for emerging or tropical diseases that are currently not present in the UK but may pose a threat in the future. 

The programme may also need to provide modelling on non-communicable diseases such as tetanus and anthrax, which at times can give rise to health protection concerns and policy questions.

There are many examples of high priority public health issues where modelling input has been required. As well as COVID-19, these include the Ebola virus, pandemic influenza and blood-borne/surgical transmission of vCJD.

Technical requirements

The ability to work flexibly and rapidly, to provide support to DHSC including on COVID-19 going forwards (as required) and future emergency responses – is a key requirement. 

The programme research team would be expected to interface closely with other academic groups, UKHSA, JCVI and other research teams as necessary, especially where disease specific (or possibly economic) expertise was not available within the team or to access, for example, the epidemiological data that may be required. 

Analytical support on infectious diseases to DHSC policy makers, from a range of sources, is coordinated by the COVID-19 and Health Protection Analysis (CHPA) branch and the programme’s research team will work closely with CHPA to agree the focus and priority of their work, with oversight from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The outline and strategic approach of the work programme for 2-3 years will be determined in discussion with DHSC (balancing policy need with research team’s interests and initial capabilities) on an iterative basis as priorities and needs flex. 

Outputs 

Applicants are asked to consider the timing and nature of deliverables in their proposals. Policymakers will need research evidence to meet key policy decisions and timescales, so resource needs to be flexible to meet these needs. A large proportion of work will therefore be reactive. A meeting to discuss policy needs with DHSC officials will be convened as a matter of priority following contracting. 

Quarterly meetings would refine and re-prioritise the work plan in response to requirements of DHSC. This will include a publication schedule on the alternative, ‘second’ opinion component of the programme.

Reports or publications arising from the programme need to clearly state any potential or actual conflicts of interests of the research team.

Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments and reports must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.

Budget and duration 

The research is expected to be delivered within a cost of £900,000 over the period of 3 years, commencing January 2022.

Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and commissioning panel members will assess applications against.

The duration of the research and individual projects within the contract will be no longer than is consistent with high quality studies. In assessing proposals, the Department will be seeking value for money as well as scientific excellence and, in particular, the potential for policy impact which is key.

All applications are expected to start within 2 months of funding being agreed, subject to pre-contract negotiations and specific requirements.

Management arrangements

A research oversight group including, but not limited to, representatives of DHSC (including from the Science, Research and Evidence Directorate and health protection policy teams), NIHR, UKHSA, JCVI and the successful applicants for the research will be established. The oversight group will provide a strategic steer and guidance on priorities, meeting regularly over the lifetime of the research and allow an opportunity for any reactive work to be agreed and introduced into the programme. The successful applicants should be prepared to review research objectives with the oversight group, and to share emerging findings on an ongoing basis. They will be expected to:

  • Provide regular feedback on progress
  • Produce timely reports to the advisory group
  • Produce a final report for sign off

Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR Policy Research Programme. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.

The application

Applicants should be able to give examples of the type of modelling work they have completed previously, its relevance to policy and impactfulness, and what they would be able to provide in the future if successful.

References and key documents

[1] HM Treasury (2013). Review of quality assurance of Government analytical models: final report [Accessed April 2022]. 

Key documents