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Reprioritising public health and supporting good quality NIHR PHR applications

Reprioritising public health and supporting good quality NIHR PHR applications

01 March 2021

Helen Munro Wild, RDS adviser, East of England

Reaffirming the importance of public health

COVID-19 has meant the importance of public health and the need for re-prioritisation has again come to the fore. Health and wellbeing, prevention and reducing inequalities (people and place) are key areas where quality research is needed. PHR is a unique funding stream and people aren’t always sure whether their research idea meets the criteria for funding. The RDS can support teams in developing complex designs and choosing appropriate health-related outcomes which can be more difficult when researching the environment, housing, education, policing, city planning, transport and development; constituents of public health.


Elements of a good quality project

PHR funds research to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions, to improve population health and reduce inequalities. Ensuring sustainability and securing alternative funding for the intervention itself are key. NIHR PHR won’t fund interventions themselves or development (MRC Public health intervention development scheme (PHIND) for early career researchers, to do exploratory work to develop a PH intervention for up to £150k). Clearly describing the intervention is essential, with details of anticipated impact. How and what will your research change?

Academics may lack the broad understanding of how an intervention will work in practice, and well-designed research in this area should show multi-agency collaborative partnerships (across organisations such as local authorities, education, police and local NHS) and patient, public involvement (PPI). Establishing collaborators and stakeholders is essential for delivering good quality, upstream research in complex and interconnected systems. Place-based research puts health in context; acknowledging and addressing obstacles faced by some members of the community should be explicit in the aims in terms of reducing inequalities.

Multi-organisational research can experience difficulties with priorities that don’t align, differing terms of reference/language, outcome measures and access to good quality information. In many organisations where public health research could be done – schools, policing, housing - there may be a lack of investment in analytical capability. Some feasibility work on data collection/access is often useful, either preceding the grant application or as part of the main study. PHR rapid funding can be used for rapid baseline data collection or feasibility work where duration is <6 months (£50k max).

Find out what’s currently being funded, use the NIHR CRN Public Search database and the UK Research and Innovation database to search for latest research.


Networks and services who can support

East of England Population Health Research Hub (PHReSH),  phinder and PHRADA are all examples of networks and services designed to support the development of public health research, alongside the RDS.

If you have a research idea you think PHR may fund, get in touch with your local RDS. We can review study design, logic models, comment on team composition (including PPI) and support you in submitting a good quality application. RDS works closely with NIHR PHR colleagues and has a unique opportunity to feedback on the challenges that teams face in developing successful PHR grant applications.

Upcoming event
Before you go, there is a public health event online on 28th April. If you have a PH intervention you’d like funding to evaluate in the next 12-18 months, you may find the event useful.

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