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Public Health Research Programme


The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions, intended to improve the health of the public, and reduce inequalities in health.

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales, and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

 It  funds research that evaluates non-NHS interventions that may impact on health and health inequalities and that have the potential to be delivered at scale. The research should generate evidence to inform public health decision-making and lead to sustainable population-level change. We are particularly interested in studies that focus on the wider determinants of health. Proposed primary outcome measures should always be health-related, unless specified in a commissioning brief.

The research we fund serves:

  • decision-makers in local and national government
  • voluntary sector organisations
  • national agencies concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities
  • researchers
  • public health practitioners
  • the public.

We encourage multi-disciplinary research proposals led-by, or involving, researchers from outside the disciplines usually associated with public health. This is particularly important given our intention to focus on population health priorities such as climate change.

We fund research through two routes: commissioned and researcher-led workstreams. There is no upper limit to the amount of funding that researchers can apply for, but all proposals need to:

  • show their value to public health
  • be of high scientific quality
  • have an impact at local or national level
  • offer value for money.

 You can submit an application at any point. Our funding calls have cut-off dates throughout the year.

 Funded projects are eligible for publication in the NIHR Journals Library. This open access resource is available online, and provides a full and permanent record of NIHR-funded research.

 Examples PHR-funded research include:


What we fund

  • studies evaluating the impact on health and health inequalities of real-world interventions in the UK
  • natural experiments
  • secondary research
  • studies using a wide range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including modelling studies
  • interventions that might not be thought of as being public health interventions but that will likely have an impact on health and health inequalities
  • studies that make use of longitudinal datasets and that attempt to link data across sectors, where relevant to studying the wider determinants of health
  • a limited amount of intervention development before evaluation, including feasibility studies.

This is not an exhaustive list. We are open to good research ideas on important population health issues, where there is potential to make an impact at scale, and that are likely to make a significant impact on health inequalities. Please contact us at for queries about programme remit.

 Large-scale studies

We encourage applications for large-scale studies with the potential for considerable impact at scale. For example, studies that may have impact countrywide or across large geographical regions or types of area such as coastal or rural areas. Proposals would:

  • address an issue of major strategic public health importance, with proportionate costs
  • be likely to lead to changes in practice that have a significant impact on a large proportion of the population
  • aim to fill a clear evidence gap and so be likely to generate new knowledge
  • have the potential for findings to be generalisable or transferable
  • bring together teams with expertise and track records across the full range of relevant disciplines
  • address significant government priorities (potentially working in tandem with the NIHR Policy Research Programme).

 If you’re planning a large-scale study, please refer to the  MRC’s framework on complex interventions to improve health

What we don't fund

  • studies of treatments (of specific diseases or conditions)
  • research in which the primary outcomes are social care outcomes
  • the design or development of new websites, apps or other software that represent all or part of the creation of a new intervention
  • work to develop or create new interventions or processes; these would fall under the remit of the MRC Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) Programme.

If you are thinking about applying to us but are unsure if your proposal is in remit, please contact for advice.

See the success rates for PHR proposals

Our people

In this section you can read more on the people involved with the assessment of applications for the PHR Programme, read the minutes of previous funding decisions and find out more about becoming a reviewer or a Committee member.

Our committees

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme has two committees of experts who play an important role in assessing our stage 1 and stage 2 proposals and identifying topics for research.

The PHR Prioritisation Committee (view list of prioritisation committee members) advises on the identification and prioritisation of research topics and stage 1 proposals based on public health importance. Those successful applicants are assessed by the PHR Funding Committee (view list of funding committee members) based on their scientific quality, feasibility, and value for money.

Members of NIHR Committees are required to declare any interests which conflict, or may be considered to conflict, with NIHR business, or may be perceived as influencing decisions made in the course of their work within NIHR. All members are asked to complete the Register of Interest form (annually), which is intended to capture long term predictable interests that could be perceived to lead to conflicts of interest. These and other interests are judged on a case by case basis at individual meetings.

Our  Programme Director and Prioritisation Committee Chair

Professor Brian Ferguson

Our Funding Committee Chair

Professor Peymane Adab


Our community of reviewers play a vital part in maintaining and improving the quality of the PHR Programme projects and outputs. They are sought from a variety of fields, including from those who work in and use health and social care  services.

To demonstrate our gratitude to our reviewers, and acknowledge the important work they do for the programme, the names of the past year reviewers can be found on our reviewers list.

Contact us

We offer a wide variety of assistance during all stages of the research process. If in doubt, please get in touch. For help with applying for PHR funding, please contact us:


Do you need help getting started? Contact the Research Support Service.

Do you need assistance running your study in the NHS? Contact the Study Support Service.

Local Authority research

Health Determinants Research Collaborations

The PHR Programme is developing a series of new partnerships boosting local authorities’ capacity and capability to conduct high-quality research to tackle health inequalities. 

Read more about Health Determinants Research Collaborations

The PHIRST scheme

We are keen to enable local government to be research active. One way we are doing this is through the Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) scheme which links academic teams with local authorities to evaluate work that is already happening in local government across the UK. Our funded research aims to help find out what impact these schemes have on the health and health inequalities experienced by local populations. Find out more about exploring how to support local government health research.

A blog by Dr Helen Walters, NIHR Public Health Consultant Advisor, provides the thinking behind its creation.

Local authorities who wish to apply to the PHIRST scheme can do so through our rolling open call (please search through the list for PHIRST).

Our six PHIRST teams are currently supporting evaluation of thirty-eight initiatives. Further details of these initiatives can be found on the NIHR PHIRST website or the NIHR Funding and Awards page (please search for ‘PHIRST’).

Fast-track scheme

Fast-track scheme

Most research supported by the PHR Programme will follow the normal two-stage process of assessment before being funded. However, it may sometimes be necessary to accelerate the handling of a topic and in such circumstances researchers may be eligible to apply through the fast-track scheme.

The fast-track scheme provides an opportunity to submit a stage 2 proposal directly, shortening the length of time it takes for a funding decision to be made. However, please bear in mind that proposals accepted onto the fast-track scheme will compete on equal terms with other stage 2 proposals which have had the benefit of feedback by the Research Funding Committee at stage 1.

The most obvious indication for fast-tracking is to take advantage of a time-limited opportunity to conduct research. This may be when research is needed around a natural experiment where data collection needs to start within a timescale which can’t be accommodated by the programme’s normal processes.

If you would like your proposal to be considered for the fast-track scheme, please contact You will be asked to:

  • convince the secretariat that there is significant benefit to fast-tracking your application, and
  • submit a written summary of your proposal (usually about one side of A4) in a PICO format.

The information you provide will then be considered, and you will be informed whether your proposal is eligible for fast-tracking. You will then be provided with more information about submitting your stage 2 application, and the timescales for doing this.