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NIHR announces £25 million funding for the School for Public Health Research

The NIHR has reaffirmed its commitment to public health research by awarding a third round of funding to the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR).

The next round of the school, which has been awarded £25 million from April 2022, will advance and extend the school’s current research themes of children, young people and families; public mental health; and places and communities.

The school will continue to be led by Professor Ashley Adamson, Director of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health and an NIHR Senior Investigator, and be joined by two new members in the University of Exeter and a consortium of the Universities of Birmingham, Keele and Warwick.

Established in April 2012, the renewed SPHR is an extended partnership between nine leading centres of academic public health research excellence across England. 

The school aims to build the evidence base for effective public health practice by bringing together England’s leading public health research expertise in one virtual organisation. The school conducts applied public health research to increase the volume and quality evidence on cost-effective interventions and supports local public health practitioners and policy makers to engage with research and seek out research evidence to inform their decisions. 

The NIHR ran an open competition to refresh the school membership for a third time and for the appointment of a director for the school. The call to be a member of the school invited academic institutions in England who were able to demonstrate excellence in public health research to apply. 

Professor Ashley Adamson will continue her role as the director of the school for the next quinquennium. Prof Ashley Adamson said: “I am thrilled that SPHR has received further funding to continue its world-class public health research, influencing policy and practice in the UK. Working in partnership with those developing and delivering public health means we have the most relevant and important questions.

"I’m honoured to continue as director of SPHR, working with excellent academic and practice colleagues and members of the public to drive forward our research agenda to meet the evidence needs to reduce inequalities in health and improve the health of the public. I am delighted that our capacity building funding creates further opportunity for SPHR to work with the NIHR Academy and others to build a future public health workforce equipped for the challenges ahead”.

With the government’s increasing attention on prevention and public health research and how we recover from the pandemic, the contribution of the school is of strategic importance to the Department of Health and Social Care. 

Prof Lucy Chappell, NIHR Chief Executive, said: “The NIHR’s investment in SPHR has generated valuable local evidence that has informed local authority spending and planning to improve child health and create healthier neighbourhoods. With the new £25m, SPHR will continue to address key challenges in public health while expanding geographic reach and ensuring research takes place where it is needed most.”

The school will build on the successes of the work conducted in the previous quinquennium. One success in the second phase of funding included exploring the nature and acceptability of local authority actions to restrict proliferation of hot-food takeaways in England. The research has helped planners and public health professionals to create healthier neighbourhoods through regulation by giving them the objective, evidence-based food environment data they need to identify priority areas for regulation. 

A further success includes a project harnessing data on child poverty, infant mortality, child physical activity and obesity to improve child health. The research has informed local authority spending and planning, contributed to debates and reviews, generated evidence to inform pandemic recovery planning, and secured further funding.

Members of the NIHR School for Public Health Research 2022-2027 

  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Birmingham collaboration with the Universities of Warwick and Keele (PHRESH) – new member 
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • University of Bristol
  • Liverpool and Lancaster Universities Collaboration for Public Health (LiLaC)
  • Imperial College 
  • Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health (Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities) 
  • University of Exeter – new member