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NIHR awards over £100 million to new Policy Research Units


Published: 01 August 2023

NIHR has awarded over £100 million to 20 new Policy Research Units (PRUs) across England. The PRUs will tackle important emerging health and social care issues including reproductive health, addiction and dementia.

The PRUs, funded by NIHR’s Policy Research Programme, play a vital role in making sure the government and arm’s length bodies have the best possible information and evidence available when making policy decisions about health and social care.

Each university-based unit will bring together a team of researchers from collaborating institutions. The PRU researchers will respond to policy research needs and develop research programmes that provide evidence for current and emerging research priorities.

NIHR currently funds 15 PRUs covering a broad range of topic areas. These areas will still be covered by the new Units, while two of the previous PRUs (Obesity and Older People and Frailty) have been renamed to better reflect their priority area. In this round of funding, they will be renamed as Healthy Weight and Healthy Ageing. Contracts for the current units will end in December 2023.

To address emerging issues for the health and social care systems and support the Department of Health and Social Care’s strategic priorities, NIHR has expanded the number of PRUs it will fund for the next cycle. The total 20 new units will begin work in January 2024. Each unit will receive £3-5.5m over the course of a 3 to 5 year contract. The larger Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit (PIRU) has an anticipated budget of almost £10.5 million over a 5 year period.

The emerging PRUs will cover the following topic areas:

  • Palliative and End of Life Care
  • Addictions
  • Reproductive Health
  • Dementia and Neurodegeneration

The new PRU in Reproductive Health has been set up as part of the government’s Women’s Health Strategy, which launched in 2022. The new Maternal and Neonatal Health and Care PRU will also contribute valuable new evidence to inform policy decisions that will improve the health and wellbeing of women and girls in line with the aims of the strategy.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Advisor DHSC and Chief Executive of the NIHR, said "In the NIHR, we have a range of ways to make sure that health and care research benefits patients and the public. The NIHR's new Policy Research Units are designed to provide strong evaluation of policy. This helps government and related organisations to be able to act on the latest evidence when making decisions about health and social care that could impact us all. 

“We are funding Policy Research Units across a range of key areas of policy ranging from cancer screening to social care. Several new topics will expand the ability of the units to help address the major healthcare challenges that we are facing, including improving reproductive health, tackling addiction as well as dementia and neurodegeneration."

Women’s Health Strategy Minister Maria Caulfield said: “We’re investing £100 million into 20 new research hubs that will bring together key experts to tackle a range of issues including end of life care, addictions, dementia, and neurodegeneration.

“As part of the Women’s Health Strategy, we promised more research would be done to improve understanding and treatments for women’s health issues – today we’re delivering a new unit looking specifically into reproductive health.”

Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Woman’s Health Ambassador for England, said: “This much welcomed funding, going to a range of important health care issues, has rightly prioritised reproductive health and also dementia, which is a major cause of disability and death in women. 

“This is an important step in our mission to deliver the Women's Health Strategy and emphasises the vital role that research plays in our understanding of the key issues that will determine how we improve women’s health and wellbeing.” 

Providing evidence for policy research needs

The PRU system has been running successfully since the 1970s. The Units offer the Department of Health and Social Care direct access to top academics in various fields. PRUs have been instrumental in shaping a range of policies.

Over the past 5 years, the 15 current PRUs have provided evidence for a variety of different policy priority areas. They have provided a long-term resource for policy research and a rapid response service to provide evidence for emerging policy needs.

NIHR’s PRU in Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis showed that the benefits of participating in the NHS breast cancer screening programme outweigh the small risk of overdiagnosis. The PRU was also involved in the first lung cancer computed tomography (CT) screening trial in the UK. The results gave strong support for lung cancer screening in identified high-risk groups such as smokers.

NIHR PRUs 2024-2028

For information on collaborating institutions involved in each PRU, please see our full list.

Specific conditions

Priority areaHost institution
Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis University College London
Healthy Weight University College London
Mental Health University College London
Addictions King's College London
Reproductive Health University College London
Dementia and Neurodegeneration Queen Mary University of London
Dementia and Neurodegeneration  University of Exeter

Life stages

Priority areaHost institution
Maternal and Neonatal Health and Care University of Oxford
Children and Families UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health
Healthy Ageing University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Palliative and End of Life Care King's College London


Priority areaHost institution
Economics of Health and Social Care Systems University of York
Economic Methods of Evaluation in Health and Care Interventions University of York
Policy Innovation and Evaluation London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Behavioural and Social Sciences University of Newcastle Upon Tyne

System directed

Priority areaHost institution
Quality, Safety and Outcomes of Health and Social Care University of Kent
Health and Social Care Workforce King's College London
Health and Social Care Systems and Commissioning University of Manchester
Public Health London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Adult Social Care London School of Economics

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