Public Health Research

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

The primary aim of the programme is the evaluation of practical interventions. We will fund both primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis); precise methods will need to be appropriate to the question being asked and the feasibility of the research. 

Our research serves a variety of key stakeholders including: decision-makers in local government; primary care organisations and other local public services; third sector organisations; relevant national agencies (e.g. NICE) concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities; researchers; public health practitioners and the public.

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



The PHR Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions, specifically, we provide new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider impacts of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health.

Proposed primary outcome measures should always be health related, unless otherwise specified in a commissioning brief. Examples include examining whether regeneration programmes improve public health and reduce health inequalities; evaluating employer schemes to encourage walking or cycling to work; and assessing interventions that encourage healthy eating among school children.

Applicants wishing to evaluate public health interventions that sit both inside and outside of the NHS, or on the boundary, are encouraged to discuss their proposals with PHR Programme staff at an early stage.

The PHR Programme will generally only consider applications focused on intervention development where an intervention already exists and for which there is an evidence base, but it requires adaptation to situations such as a new context (e.g. a change in setting or target behaviour or client group) or amalgamation of separate, defined interventions so that they complement each other. 

Where a compelling case is made, we will also fund work to establish feasibility and to pilot a definitive intervention. However, any work related to optimising an existing intervention prior to evaluation, where research has shown that the intervention performs sub-optimally and there are specific remediable aspects of the intervention such as the delivery method or the timing of elements, must not exceed 6-months in duration.

The programme does not, however, fund the creation of new interventions as this research would likely fall under the remit of the MRC Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) programme. 

The PHR programme will not support

  • The creation of new interventions, or processes, where active components of existing interventions are recombined to create a new intervention whether or not driven by a logic model or underlying theory. 
  • The design and development of new websites, apps, text messages or other software designed as all or part of creating a new intervention. Websites or other supporting material with the aim of publicising the study or supporting study recruitment, for example, which is only required to carry out the research study, would be supported within the general rules of the programme as would material associated with the optimisation of an existing intervention prior to evaluation.

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 full 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 full proposals which have had the benefit of feedback by the Research Funding Board at outline stage.

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 full application and the timescales for doing this.

Large-scale studies

The PHR Programme is also keen to see applications for large-scale evaluation studies with the potential for national reach. This means primary research projects which: 

  • address an issue of major strategic public health importance, with the cost in line with the significance of the problem to be investigated
  • are likely to lead to changes in practice that will have a significant impact on a large number of the population across the UK
  • aim to fill a clear 'evidence gap', and likely to generate new knowledge
  • have the potential for findings that are generalisable and transferable
  • bring together a team with strong expertise and track record across the full range of relevant disciplines

The researcher-led workstream offers the flexibility for ambitious evaluations of public health interventions. If a case can be made for public health importance, scientific quality and value for money, there is no upper limit to the amount of funding that can be applied for and applications can be made at any point, with three cut-off dates throughout the year. Multi-factorial research will be considered.

If you are planning a project of this type you may wish to refer to the MRC Complex Interventions Framework.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding issues such as remit or the timing of your application.

Study Examples

The below film showcases the NIHR’s research and involvement in public health challenges. The film includes the Football Fans In Training scheme, which involved 747 overweight men taking part in 12 weekly sessions run by Scottish professional football clubs. Results showed they lost 9 times as much weight as those not on the programme and the scheme is now being rolled out into other premier league clubs in England. Another study reviewed turning off streetlights and the impact this had on people’s health.



The NIHR Public Health Research 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.

Contact us

We offer a wide variety of assistance during all stages of the research process. If in doubt, please get in touch.