University of Warwick: Universities unite in new consortium to improve public health

The consortium, called PHRESH, is now part of the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR), which has been awarded £25 million over five years from April 2022 as it begins its third phase of funding. The funding will advance and extend the school’s current research themes of children, young people and families; public mental health; and places and communities.

Established in April 2012, the renewed NIHR School for Public Health Research (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 research to increase the volume and quality of evidence on cost-effective interventions to tackle important public health challenges. It also supports local public health practitioners and policy makers to engage with, 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. Academic institutions in England who were able to demonstrate excellence in public health research were encouraged and invited to apply.

Peymané Adab, Professor of Chronic Disease Epidemiology & Public Health at the University of Birmingham who leads the PHRESH consortium, said: “As we continue to navigate through a global pandemic, now more than ever is a time to focus on carrying out research that promotes better population health. In particular, we need to focus on reducing differences between the health of different groups, and inform the development of policies that promote wellbeing and reduce disease in people of all ages. We are delighted to have formed this consortium with our fellow experts in Warwick and Keele as we begin on our journey in playing a key role in NIHR SPHR.”

Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick will be contributing expertise in evidence synthesis, systematic reviews, nutrition, testing for conditions across populations, as well as health in children and young people. University of Warwick lead Professor Sian Taylor-Phillips said: “We are excited to start this new partnership across the West Midlands, bringing together world-leading expertise in the region to improve the health of our population. Our West Midlands partnership will be working collaboratively with universities across the country to address the biggest challenges to public health, and train the next generation of public health researchers.”

George Peat, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Keele University, said: “We’re excited to be joining the NIHR School for Public Health Research as part of this new consortium led by Birmingham and with our colleagues in Warwick. It is a fantastic opportunity to work with a diverse group of researchers, practitioners, and members of the public to produce research that helps us respond to major challenges to population health.”

The school will continue to be led by Professor Ashley Adamson, Director of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, and NIHR Senior Investigator, and will also be joined by new members the University of Exeter and the PHRESH consortium.

Professor 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 NIHR 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.

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR Chief Executive, said: “The NIHR’S investment in the School for Public Health Research 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, the NIHR 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.

A 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 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.