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Public Health and Prevention research

Summary

We fund research projects in public health and prevention through our funding programmes, and support training and career development for researchers.

We support public health and prevention research funded by the NIHR, commercial and non-commercial organisations such as charities, supporting the set-up and delivery of this research in the NHS and in public health and social care settings. Our research infrastructure also supports research funded by these partners, offering expertise, collaborations and facilities.

Our School for Public Health Research builds the evidence base for effective public health practice by bringing together England’s leading public health research expertise in one virtual organisation.

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme, 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, 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.

We are helping local authorities to develop local research infrastructure through our Health Determinants Research Collaboration funding.

We also work with the public, providing opportunities for them to influence and take part in public health and prevention research.

Delivery

The NIHR supports patients and the public to participate in high quality research taking place in health, care and local authority settings across England, advancing knowledge and improving care.

NIHR Clinical Research Network

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) includes 30 specialty groups, who coordinate and support the delivery of high quality research. Some of this research is funded by the NIHR, but most of it is funded by non-commercial organisations, such as charities or universities, and the life sciences industry.

The CRN provides researchers with the practical support they need to make research happen. It supports the set up and delivery of research in the NHS and in other health, care and local authority and community settings through our Study Support Service, with tailored offers of support for:

Supporting public health and prevention research

The CRN Public Health and Prevention Specialty supports research intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. This means we support and promote a wide range of research, including studies relating to:

  • Obesity
  • Lifestyle (diet; smoking; alcohol; substance misuse)
  • Chronic disease prevention
  • Screening
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Environment
  • Sustainable development
  • Health inequalities
  • Social determinants of health

Many of these studies take place outside of traditional clinical environments, across a wide range of health and local authority settings - for example in schools or other community settings.

We also support studies led by other CRN specialties to deliver high quality population health research.

In 2019/20 we supported recruitment into 153 CRN portfolio public health research studies across a range of community based settings, with 100% of our commercial public health studies delivered on time and to target.

Who we are

As well as providing research delivery staff, we also bring together highly engaged Public Health consultants and academics from top UK universities and research, bringing both clinical and academic expertise to your research. Our experts in the CRN Specialty Group can advise on delivering your public health study and in particular geographic regions.

Professor Jane West is the CRN National Specialty Lead for public health and prevention. Read Prof West’s full biography.

Professor Jane West is supported by local public health specialty leads in each of the 15 NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks.

Our collaborators and stakeholders

We work closely with a range of stakeholders to integrate research into public health practice and drive priority setting to encourage research that will have the greatest impact on the health of the public. Our National Specialty Group includes representatives from:

Faculty of Public Health

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) is the professional home for more than 3,300 professionals working in public health. Members come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds (including clinical, academic, policy) and are employed in a variety of settings, usually working at a strategic or specialist level.

Society for Social Medicine

Social medicine is the study of health in its widest sense. It recognizes the broad determinants of health – income and poverty, education, environmental factors such as housing and transport – as well as health care and genetic influences. The Society for Social Medicine (SSM) aims to promote the development of scientific knowledge in social medicine. This covers a range of subjects including epidemiology, the medical and health needs of society, the provision and organisation of health services and the prevention of disease.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) formerly Public Health England

The NIHR collaborates with UKHSA on NIHR Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs). HPRUs are research partnerships between universities and Public Health England, and act as centres of excellence in multidisciplinary health protection research in England.

 Association of Directors of Public Health

The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) is the representative body for Directors of Public Health (DsPH) which seeks to improve and protect the health of the population through collating the views of DsPH and supporting the development of comprehensive, equitable public health policies.

 UK Prevention Research Partnership 

The NIHR supports the UK Prevention Research Partnership, a multi-funder initiative that supports novel research into the primary prevention of non-communicable diseases to improve population health and reduce health inequalities. 

 

Funding

Our funding programmes fund high quality research in public health and prevention that benefits the NHS, public health and social care. We also provide career development funding awards for public health researchers - see the careers tab for more information.

Our funding programmes

The NIHR 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 scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad, covering a wide range of interventions that improve public health.

Most of our funding programmes run funding calls open to research proposals on any topic (researcher-led calls), including research proposals in public health.

We have previously held a themed call on prevention and treatment of obesity (2015). NIHR themed calls are funding opportunities focusing on a particular research topic, in which all our funding programmes participate.

Got an idea for research in public health and prevention? The NIHR Research Design Service can help you turn it into a funding application, offering advice on research design, research methods, identifying funding sources, and involving patients and the public.

Our research portfolio

You can search and view all the public health research we’ve funded on NIHR Funding and Awards.

In addition, a number of our research programmes publish comprehensive accounts of our public health research in the NIHR Journals Library.

Our research schools

The NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) is a partnership between eight leading academic centres with excellence in applied public health research in England.

SPHR aims to increase the evidence base for cost-effective public health practice by:

  • Conducting applied public health research to increase the volume and quality of useful evidence on cost-effective interventions
  • Creating an environment where first class applied public health research, focused on the needs of the public, can thrive
  • Supporting local public health practitioners and policy makers to engage with research, and actively seek out high quality research evidence to inform their decisions
  • Contributing to ongoing efforts to build research capacity in public health research.

Research units

Across the NIHR, we fund research units in key research areas like health protection and health and care policy. These units provide funding to associated researchers to undertake research on the priority topic that the unit specialises in.

Our Health Protection Research Units, and some of our Policy Research Units, develop and undertake research in public health and prevention.

Health Protection Research Units

NIHR Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs) are research partnerships between universities and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) (formerly Public Health England). The units act as centres of excellence in multidisciplinary health protection research in England.

Since 2014, our investment into world-class health protection research has shown how routine NHS data on consumption of antimicrobials can predict the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, and how pragmatic steps by local authorities can reduce the risk of mental health problems in communities affected by flooding. These findings are used by UKHSA to keep the public safe from current and emerging public health threats.

We have funded two five-year rounds of HPRUs. The second funding round awarded £58.7 million to 14 HPRUs over a five year period, starting 1 April 2020.

Our HPRUs are:

The Centre for Environment Health and Sustainability (CEHS) at Leicester University is a recipient of a Health Protection Research Unit Development Award from NIHR, and collaborates in this with UKHSA on the topic of Environmental Exposures and Health.

 Policy Research Units

NIHR Policy Research Units (PRUs) undertake research to inform government and arms-length bodies making policy decisions about health and social care. The units create a critical mass of experts for research in priority areas for health and social care policy.

The following PRU undertakes public health and prevention research:

Careers

The NIHR attracts, trains and supports the best public health researchers to tackle the complex public health challenges of the future.

Our investment in people sustains excellent research capacity and expertise throughout academic career pathways and provides high quality learning and development opportunities for a strong research workforce.

Funding research careers

The NIHR Academy is responsible for the development and coordination of NIHR academic training, career development and research capacity development.

There is a wide range of NIHR training and career development awards available at different career stages, from pre-doctoral through to Research Professorships. These awards comprise both personal awards, which can be applied for directly with the NIHR, and institutional awards which should be applied for through the host institution. In particular, the Local Authority Academic Fellowship (LAAF) Programme and similarly focused short placement awards support individuals based within local authority settings to develop as health and/or social care researchers. 

The NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) is committed to building capacity in public health research by providing a range of multidisciplinary training and development opportunities. The school offers PhD studentships and fellowships to target gaps in the academic public health career pathway, as well as development and support opportunities.

Supporting the delivery workforce

Support

The NIHR invests significantly in people, centres of excellence, collaborations, services and facilities to support health and care research in England. Collectively these form the world-class NIHR infrastructure.

This national research infrastructure is available to use by UKRI, research charities and the life sciences industry as well as NIHR researchers.

NIHR Applied Research Collaborations

NIHR Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs) support applied health and care research that responds to, and meets, the needs of local populations and local health and care systems.

The following ARCs undertake research in public health and prevention:

The ARCs also work together on a number of national leadership areas, led by specific ARCs. The NIHR ARC North Thames leads the national ARC effort on population health, and the NIHR ARC Collaboration North East and North Cumbria leads the prevention national leadership area. 

Clinical Practice Research Datalink

The Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) provides access to high quality, anonymised primary care data for retrospective and prospective public health studies.

The primary care data are linked to a range of other health related data to provide a longitudinal, representative UK population health dataset.

CPRD data and services can be highly tailored to meet specific research needs.

NIHR Clinical Research Network

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS and in other health and care settings. Find out more on the delivery tab.

Experts

The NIHR funds and supports world-class experts in public health and prevention.

In addition, our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (National and Regional Specialty Leads) can advise on delivering your public health and prevention study in health, community and local government settings.

CRN National Specialty Lead

Professor Jane West is the CRN National Speciality Lead for Public Health and Prevention.

Professor West is a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health and a registered practitioner with the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP). Prior to public health specialty training, she was a clinical and research midwife within the NHS.

NIHR funded Research Professor

The NIHR Research Professorship is the flagship personal funding award for the NIHR. The scheme funds research leaders of the future to promote effective translation of research.

Professor Amanda Daley research aims to develop lifestyle interventions to help the public become more physically active throughout the whole day, reduce the time they spend sitting and prevent obesity. She aims to develop a world class centre for public health physical activity research.

Director of the NIHR School for Public Health Research

Professor Ashley Adamson is the Director of the NIHR School for Public Health Research.
Professor Adamson is Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Newcastle University and Director of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. In 2009 she joined the Institute of Health & Society where she leads the Public Health Improvement research theme.

Director of the Public Health Research (PHR) Programme

Professor Brian Ferguson is Director of the Public Health Research (PHR) Programme. Professor Ferguson joined Public Health England in 2013 as Director of Knowledge and Intelligence and has been UKHSA's Chief Economist since 2015. He is a member of the International Editorial Board for the journal Public Health and has chaired the Research Advisory Committee of the National Diabetic Eye Screening Programme since 2011. Until recently he was Chair of the OECD Expert Group on the Economics of Public Health.

Public Involvement

We engage with and involve members of the public and communities in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research in public health and prevention.

Have your say in research

We involve members of the public and communities in our national research funding and support activities, including in public health and prevention research.

The researchers we fund also involve the public in planning and delivering their public health and prevention research.

Involvement opportunities across the NIHR

Our Local Clinical Research Networks involve people in public health and prevention research taking place in your local area.

The NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation involves the public to guide the research that they do.

The NIHR School for Public Health Research involves the public in everything they do, from how they prioritise the issues they want to study, how they carry out research, how they interpret our results to how they share our findings.

 

Case Studies