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Health Services Research

The NIHR is the nation's largest funder of health and care research and provides the people, facilities and technology that enable research to thrive. We work in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders (including industry and charities), patients and the public to improve the health and wealth of the nation.   

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supported 247 studies on health services research, 110 of which were new studies, and recruited 115,540 patients to studies last year (2018/19). 


Evaluation of the National Diabetes Prevention Programme

Diabetes is a major problem in England, and reducing the numbers of people with Type 2 diabetes is a priority for the NHS. The NHS Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NHS DPP) aims to identify those at high risk and refer them onto a behaviour change programme.

Due to the importance placed on the NHS DPP and the lessons that may be learnt for other large scale health programmes, an independent evaluation was commissioned by the NIHR. Early findings have already been shared with NHS England, who are working to make sure they inform the next wave of Healthier You programmes.

Reorganising health services for young people with mental health problems

Young people between 16 and 25 years old have the highest incidence of mental health illness of any age group but the worst access to mental healthcare services. The NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) West Midlands led a study examining how to radically redesign mental health services for young people in Birmingham

CLAHRC West Midlands funded a team to look at 16- to 18-year-olds who either disengage, or become lost, as they transition to adult mental health services, in particular among black and other minority ethnic groups. Working with local service users in Birmingham, the team developed Youthspace: a low-stigma intervention for people between 14 and 25 years old deployed by youth teams and an interactive website.

Early results of the impact of the Youthspace initiative showed its success in reducing the delays young people experienced in waiting for treatment for psychosis – from 285 to 104 days compared with those in a control arm. Based on the West Midland team’s research, Birmingham now offers a mental health service to children, young people and young adults right through to the age of 25.

Improving medication management in older people

Half of people aged 75 or more live with two or more long-term conditions. Safe and effective use of multiple medicines to manage these conditions can be a challenge for individuals and for health and social care services.

The MEMORABLE study, funded by the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme, is seeking to develop a framework to support a multiple discipline and agency approach to help improve medication management in older people. In turn reducing the 5,700 deaths and the 5%-8% of unplanned hospital admissions which are estimated to happen in each year in the UK as a result of medication related adverse events.

Innovation in clinical research trial design

Traditionally, researchers recruit people to one trial at a time, which can make the recruitment process time consuming and expensive. ‘Trials within Cohorts’ (TwiCs) is an alternative design for practical trials which aims to address many of the challenges presented by the standard approach.

Patients are asked to consent to take part in a large observational study, known as the cohort. The cohort recruits patients for the disease(s) being studied. Personal and demographic information about the participants is collected on a regular basis either directly from participants, or from their health records if they agree. This cohort then provides the capacity to deliver multiple randomised controlled trials, making it potentially a more efficient way of conducting trials.

TwiCs was used by the NIHR Clinical Research Network Greater Manchester to recruit to the Comprehensive Longitudinal Assessment of Salford Integrated Care (CLASSIC) study, which aimed to improve the health and social care of over 65s in Salford with long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Using the TwiCs design, the study recruited more than 4,000 patients after it opened in April 2014.

Evaluation of the Personal Health Budgets Pilot

Personal health budgets are designed to increase patient choice and control over how their health and care services are delivered. A budget is agreed between the patient and the local clinical commissioning group to support the patient’s healthcare and wellbeing needs.

The programme was launched as a pilot by the Department of Health in 2009, and a national evaluation was commissioned to run alongside it. The evaluation used a controlled study, supported in recruitment by the NIHR Clinical Research Network, to compare the outcomes and costs of patients selected to receive a personal health budget with those continuing with conventional support arrangements (the control group). The findings of this study informed the wider roll-out of personal health budgets in the NHS in 2014.

Find a health services research study in your area

You can find out more about health services research studies in your area through the Be Part of Research website.

The NIHR provides researchers with the practical support they need to make clinical studies happen in the NHS and social care. We provide world-class health service infrastructure - research support staff such as clinical research nurses, and research support services such as pharmacy, pathology and radiology - to support organisations seeking to conduct clinical research in the NHS in England.

We support the set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS through our Study Support Service and our Research Design Service helps researchers develop proposals to secure funding from our research programmes.  

The Health Services Research specialty is one of over 30 specialties which bring together communities of clinical practice to provide national networks of research expertise. Our membership is made up of research-interested clinicians and practitioners at both national and local levels. Our job is to ensure that health services research studies receive the right support to ensure they are delivered successfully in the NHS.

We oversee research that deals with the development of health services to ensure the delivery of high quality studies so that people have the opportunity to know about, and participate in, good clinical research. As a result we support a wide range of research studies that focus on improving the quality, accessibility and organisation of health services.

We work to promote the successful delivery of research studies in the NHS and to help plan new studies that will address patients' needs. Research includes studies concerned with health service workforce issues and planning, and organisation of care (including primary-secondary interface).

We support and promote research by:

  • Supporting researchers to deliver high quality studies to time and target in the NHS
  • Engaging with the existing research community
  • Developing research infrastructure locally

The Health Services Research Specialty will take the lead for the evaluation of complex interventions which are expected to produce highly generalisable results across conditions or settings.

National Health Services Research Specialty Group

Each of our 15 Local Clinical Research Networks has at least one nominated local Clinical Specialty Research Lead for Health Services Research. These clinicians lead research groups to promote and support Health Services Research within the NHS Trusts in their area.

At a national level the local leads come together to manage the  national Health Services Research clinical research portfolio. This involves regularly reviewing the progress of studies, identifying barriers to recruitment, and coming up with solutions and strategies to help overcome those barriers. Our National Specialty Group of clinical experts offer advice and support to commercial and non-commercial customers looking to conduct research in the NHS.


Health Services Research Specialty profile

The Health Services Research Specialty profile gives an overview of our offer to the Life Sciences industry.

Health Services Research (HSR) Toolkit

Health services research is critical for an NHS that is effective, efficient and centred on patient need. However, there are lots of challenges to doing good quality health services research. The NIHR Clinical Research Network HSR Toolkit is designed to bring together ideas, guidance and support together in one place, to help you deliver the high quality health services research that the NHS needs.

The Health Services Research Specialty has been forming links with the wider Health Services Research Community in particular Health Services Research UK (HSRUK).


HSRUK is a self-supporting membership organisation which includes a number of research units and NHS organisations, as well as third sector bodies, professional groups and private sector associates. 

They are hosted by Universities UK and governed by a board of service leaders, funders, academics, and others. They work in partnership with a wide range of national and international organisations that have an interest in and deliver health services including the NIHR Clinical Research Network.

The NIHR provides the support and facilities the NHS needs for first-class research by funding a range of infrastructure.

NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres

NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs) work to pull advances in basic research with potential relevance to patient safety into an applied research setting. The following PSTRCs undertakes health services research:

NIHR School for Primary Care Research

The NIHR School for Primary Care Research is a partnership between nine leading academic centres for primary care research in England. The School brings together academics and practitioners from across the country to collaborate on cutting edge, topical primary care studies that have an impact both at policy level and in general practices around the country.

Work with our infrastructure

All of the NIHR facilities and centres are opening to working with the public, charities, industry and other partners. If you are interested in collaborating with the NIHR please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research infrastructure: 

Our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network National Specialty Group  can advise on delivering your health services research study in the NHS and wider social care setting.

The National Specialty Leads provide leadership on clinical studies in conditions, and act as a key clinical ambassador for these conditions within the specialty. 

National Specialty Lead

Professor Peter Bower


As the National Specialty Lead for Health Services Research, Peter leads the Health Services Research Specialty Group. He is a Professor of Health Services Research at the Centre for Primary Care, University of Manchester, and Specialty Lead for health services and delivery research for Greater Manchester. 

Peter has been been conducting health services research in Manchester for over 20 years, with a focus on the management of depression, long-term conditions, and integrated care. He is part of the NIHR School for Primary Care Research, the Medical Research Council (MRC) North West Hub for Trials Methodology Research, and the Greater Manchester Primary Care Patient Safety Translational Research Centre.

Related Specialties

Primary care

Public Health and Prevention


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