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£50 million awarded to local government to tackle interventions for health inequalities through research

Published: 11 October 2022

NIHR today announces a multimillion-pound investment for a series of local government partnerships, boosting local authorities’ capacity and capability to conduct high-quality research to tackle health inequalities.

The 10 pioneering Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs) provide new research funding to embed a culture of evidence-based decision-making within local government. The HDRCs will help to stimulate economic growth, particularly in some of the most deprived areas of the country and contribute to the Government’s plans to take action for the longer-term resilience of the health and wealth of the country. A further three councils will be receiving development award funding during 2022/23, with the prospect of them becoming full HDRCs the following financial year.

The new partnerships, spanning the length and breadth of the UK, follow a major drive for enabling research to address wider determinants of population health and health inequalities, explicitly responding to the needs of local underserved groups and areas. Examples include facilitating research to better understand and introduce interventions to help with childhood obesity, Covid recovery, mental health and drug use.

The awarded local authorities stretch from Plymouth in the South West, to Aberdeen in Scotland, including three London Boroughs and regions in the Midlands and North of England.

The announcement builds on NIHR work started before the COVID-19 pandemic to understand local authorities’ research and evidence challenges. It demonstrates the Government’s aim to stimulate economic growth in all parts of the country and identify local solutions that address the most difficult challenges across the health and care system. 

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR CEO, said: “Millions of people living in Britain’s towns, cities and regions face a huge range of public health challenges, brought into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. This NIHR research funding will provide a foundation to develop local authorities’ capacity and capability to conduct high-quality research.

“It’s clear that people working in local government have the added advantage of knowing their local areas and communities. This investment will equip them to embed a lasting legacy of research culture to help local populations take important steps forward in tackling health inequalities.”

Each HDRC will enable its host local authority to become more research-active, by giving local government the opportunity to focus time and energy on planning and designing research. Every collaboration will be set up in partnership with a Higher Education Institution (HEI), capitalising on experience within local government and the research skills of the academic community. This will support the development of expertise, and generation of research evidence, creating a cycle of evidence-informed interventions aiming to improve the health of the public.

The ten HDRCs will commence formally on 1 October 2022. Three further teams will be given funding to undertake additional developmental work to enable HDRC status by 1 October 2023. The vision is that approximately 30 HDRCs will be created in total through future commissioning rounds. 

The new funding is among a number of NIHR initiatives, which helped to inform the HDRC concept.

Professor Brian Ferguson, Director of the NIHR Public Health Research Programme, said: “Many people living in communities across the country are facing major challenges that are impacting on their health. Our newly launched HDRCs will serve as nationally recognised centres of excellence, boosting local government’s ability to tackle these challenges by enabling breathing space to become more research active.

“This is a hugely important step forward in one of NIHR’s key aims to help local government develop research that improves health and wellbeing. By focusing on the wider determinants of health such as employment, housing, education and the physical environment, the areas we are supporting have a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting impact on health inequalities and wider deprivation."

Professor Jim McManus, President of the UK Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “We know that health inequalities are one of the major barriers facing communities the length and breadth of the country, especially for disadvantaged groups and areas.

“HDRCs will help drive the research culture within local government, building on the local knowledge that authorities already have and enable what is being done to be more readily researched and evaluated to make a difference to local people.”

Funded HDRCs:

  • Tower Hamlets Council
  • Newcastle City Council
  • Doncaster Council
  • Aberdeen City Council
  • City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Gateshead Council
  • Blackpool Council
  • Coventry City Council
  • Middlesbrough Council and Redcar & Cleveland Council **
  • The London Borough of Lambeth 
  • Medway Council **
  • Islington Council **

** these three areas are receiving development award funding during 2022/23 with a view to them becoming full HDRCs in 2023/24. 

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