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Public Health Specialty Profile


24 May 2019


1.0 - June 2019


Why you should deliver public health research in the UK

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Public Health Specialty supports research to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. This means that we support research across a range of areas including obesity, chronic disease, screening, mental health, environment, inequalities and social determinants of health. We also support studies led by other specialties to deliver high quality population health research. In 2018/19 we supported recruitment into 153 CRN portfolio public health research studies across a range of community based settings.

The CRN provides researchers with the practical support they need to make research happen in the health and social care environment. As well as providing research delivery staff, we also bring together communities of practice to provide national networks of research expertise. The Public Health Specialty is one of 30 such communities and is made up of leading research interested public health specialists and practitioners at both national and local levels. Our job is to ensure that the public health studies we support are delivered to time and target. We have a dedicated commercial study lead who can offer support for commercial studies and bridge the gap between researchers and on the ground public health practice.

We can provide:


The specialty represents all regions in England and the devolved nations. We also have representation from Public

Health England, the Faculty of Public Health, the Society for Social Medicine and the Association of Directors of Public Health. All our members work together to identify and support the delivery of public health research and to develop new pathways for support outside the NHS.

Access to participants

Our group includes members of both academic and service public health teams. This connected working and applied research approach enabled us to recruit over 97,500 participants to public health research studies in 2018/19. 

Study delivery

We have successfully supported public health research across a range of health and social care settings, including schools and early years environments. Participants from varied social, economic and ethnic backgrounds have been able to participate in our studies and we strongly support the development of a culture where it is the norm to take part in public health research. Our studies often include healthy participants with a focus on preventative health and keeping people healthy. In 2018/19, 100 per cent of our commercial public health studies were delivered on time and to target.

Case studies:

Differences in growth and adiposity between UK Pakistani and White British children participating in the Born in Bradford cohort study

This study was a public health research study funded by the UK Medical Research Council. It aimed to improve our understanding of ethnic differences in child size and obesity. Participants were healthy schoolchildren and it was led by school nurse teams based in primary schools. The Public Health Specialty provided support to gain consent from parents of eligible Born in Bradford children. This support meant that the study was able to successfully recruit 6,992 children within specified time frames, far exceeding the study target of 5,500.

Weight Watchers study

The CRN supported the recruitment of 125 participants across 11 sites into this international randomised control trial of Weight Watchers Freestyle ® (Flex® in UK) compared to a control group following a DIY diet.  

“The CRN were extremely supportive.  They helped to set up and deliver this project under a fairly tight timeline, including circulation of feasibility questionnaire to identify sites and ongoing support with governance and data collection. I even had help with my costings, where I was able to sit beside someone while she showed me how to fill in the cost template.” 

Maria Bryant, Weight Watchers

Yorkshire Health Study

The Yorkshire Health Study (YHS) is a regional longitudinal cohort study collecting health information on the residents of the Yorkshire and Humber region in England. Set up in 2010 as the South Yorkshire Cohort (SYC), the study aims to gather up to date information on the health needs, behaviours and resource use of the local population.

The first wave of data collection for the initial SYC study involved the recruitment of 27,806 participants through 43 GP practices across South Yorkshire. In 2014, the study was rebranded and renamed the Yorkshire Health Study in order to expand the study across the wider region.

A number of innovative citizen recruitment methods were used to recruit to the study between 2014-2017, including working directly and with support from the CRN into local authorities, NHS and other commercial organisations (such as ASDA and Sheffield International Venues) to recruit their staff through emails, email bulletins, posters, adverts and physically sitting in on events to sign people up to the study. Other recruitment methods utilised included: Facebook adverts, media campaigns, paper questionnaires available in pharmacies through the Pharmacy Research Network, and online GP services to recruit students to the online questionnaire. These methods resulted in the recruitment of  45,156 participants via 28 NHS sites in Yorkshire through the CRN. Overall, a total of 73,062 people have been recruited to the YHS to date.

Contact us

Access our Study Support Service online or get in touch with our Study Support Helpdesk.