Public health and social care

Public health and social care research is a growing priority across the country. There are many important stakeholders, including care home staff and management, local government, and others, who need to be engaged in research to achieve the best outcomes. The resources on this page can help to demonstrate the importance of social care research. 

What does public health research look like? 

The NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) has three key research themes, focused on evaluating public health interventions which aim to improve health by:

  • Changing behaviour or;
  • Changing the environment – including the physical, social, economic, cultural or regulatory environment;
  • Identifying cost-effective population health services

Inequalities and the translation of evidence into practice cut across all SPHR’s research programmes.

To reflect SPHR’s aim to increase the evidence base relevant to the whole population of England, we will seek to address these key themes across the life course – looking at starting well, developing well, living well and ageing well.

The NIHR School for Public Health Research

The NIHR School for Public Health Research 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 and
  • Supporting local public health practitioners and policy makers to engage with research, and actively seek out high quality research evidence to inform their decisions

Read more about the School for Public Health Research

Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme

The Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme, operating in collaboration with Public Health England, enables people working in public health who are introducing innovative initiatives aimed at improving health, to work in partnership with the NIHR School for Public Health Research to conduct rigorous evaluations of their cost-effectiveness. The scheme is particularly focused on local public health initiatives, rather than projects that are part of national programmes.

The Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme welcomes applications from people working across the public health community, in the NHS, local authority, clinical commissioning groups, screening teams and third sector organisations. You can read more about the scheme on the Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme webpage.

Examples of public health research

The effect of reduced street lighting on road casualties and crime in England and Wales

An estimated £300m is spent every year on street lights in the UK. Some local authorities have tried to reduce this cost by having reduced street lighting, which has often proved controversial as little is known about the impacts on public health and wellbeing.

Working in collaboration with all local authorities of England & Wales, the LANTERNS project sought to find out whether reducing night-time streetlight for environmental and energy reasons has any impact on road traffic crashes and crime. Read the full project results, or a summary of the results on the NIHR Dissemination Centre.

How do public health professionals view and engage with research? 

Increasing financial pressures in public health dictate a need to ensure decisions are properly evidence-informed. However, there are barriers to public health professionals engaging with research produced by academics. 

This research focused on the Public Health Practitioner Evaluation Scheme run by the NIHR School for Public Health Research, and AskFuse, operated by Fuse, to examine how they overcame barriers between research and practitioners. In-depth interviews were conducted with a small sample of professionals and academics involved in both schemes. You can view the findings and recommendations in this evidence briefing. 

Does giving residents control over decisions about their neighbourhoods improve their health? 

For at least 20 years, successive governments have championed community empowerment, yet surprisingly little is known about whether it improves health and well-being.

The Communities in Control Study explores whether increased community control can enhance health and influence its social determinants in low income neighbourhoods. Read more about the Communities in Control Study.

Watch a short video about the study below: 


Can football clubs help fans to lose weight?

In the UK, it’s estimated that around one in every four adults is obese, with research suggesting that ratio is likely to increase over time. Although men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women, they are less likely to recognise that they are overweight, join weight-loss programmes, or lose the weight if not supported by a programme.

The NIHR evaluated an intervention carried out in partnership with Scottish Premier League football clubs - Football Fans in Training (or FFIT) – which comprised of advice sessions on dietary and exercise advice and a walking programme, based at a local football club. Read more about the FFIT programme.  


I Am Research

"I Am Research" gives patients, the public and health and social care research professionals a chance to shout about how fantastic research is. We aim to raise awareness of the benefits of research and the positive impact it has on people's lives.

The campaign produced a set of materials that can be used to share the benefits of research. You can download all of these materials in a zip folder here. Alternatively you can find the individual download links below:

What does social care research look like? 

Social care research covers many areas, including finding better ways to care for people with long term chronic conditions.

It also targets other important issues that often fall under the remit of local government. This can include research into better ways to prevent domestic abuse, ways to provide long term support for formerly homeless people to prevent repeat episodes of homelessness, and ways of providing support to help disabled people and carers get into work.

The NIHR School for Social Care Research

The NIHR School for Social Care Research aims to develop the evidence base to inform and improve adult social care practice in England by commissioning and conducting world-class research. Their key strategic roles are to:

  • provide a focus for social care research within the NIHR,
  • provide strategic leadership for the development of social care research more generally,
  • contribute to ongoing efforts to build social care research capacity and improve research awareness, and
  • support the generation of impact from findings and support wider knowledge transfer activities.

Read more about the NIHR School for Social Care Research.

Examples of social care research

Meeting the information needs of ‘self-funders’

The Care Act 2014 stipulated, amongst other things, that local authorities must establish and maintain services to provide information and advice on care and support to all residents, however they are funded. This includes 'self-funders' - those who pay for their own social care - about whom there has been little previous research.

Estimates of the number of self-funders in England vary, but there is agreement that numbers are increasing. The SiGN project explored the experience of self-funders and their relatives, and found that there is often inadequate accessible information available for people who fund their own care.

View the summary findings 
View project’s website

Watch a video produced by the project below

Support for formerly homeless people

Many homeless people have experienced repeat episodes of homelessness, and have multiple disadvantages and complex needs, including histories of disrupted or disturbed childhood, low educational attainment, long-term health conditions, substance misuse problems, and the need for help to sustain independent-living. Yet the availability, quality and duration of support provided to homeless people after they are rehoused vary greatly.

The 'Rebuilding lives: supporting formerly homeless people to achieve independent living' project was built on the FOR-HOME study to increase the knowledge base on how to commission and manage a market for homeless provision within local authorities adult social care teams. 
Read the project outline

Increasing community connections and reducing loneliness for people with complex anxiety and depression

Loneliness can affect people’s quality of life, physical and mental health and impede recovery for people with anxiety and depression. Signposting and support programmes to reduce loneliness, and thus improve other outcomes, are promising but lack robust evaluation. The CDAT-CONNECT trial is developing and testing a navigation programme to reduce loneliness for people with complex depression or anxiety. 
Visit the study website for more information

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex + (LGBTQI+) Disabled People and social care support

LGBTQI+ Disabled People who use self-directed social care support require that support to be personalised and organised and delivered in ways which maximise wellbeing (as per all users of social care). However, revealing, discussing and organising needs which might be said to relate to ‘being and doing’ LGBTQI+, may prove challenging if staff and services are not open to discussing or responding to such needs.

This study has produced briefings providing information for LGBTQI+ Disabled People who employ personal assistants or support workers; and for personal assistants, support workers, social workers and other social care staff working with LGBTQI+ Disabled People.
Visit the study website for more information

Success stories

Our 'success stories' are short case studies highlighting successful initiatives that have had a transformative effect in embedding research into normal clinical practice. You can view all of these case studies on our success stories page.

Useful links

NIHR School for Social Care Research

NIHR School for Public Health Research

Join Dementia Research

UK Clinical Trials Gateway