NIHR awards over £100 million to new Policy Research Units
The University of Warwick is among institutions driving UK health and social care research, thanks to NIHR funding.
NIHR has awarded over £100 million to 20 new Policy Research Units (PRUs) across England, to 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 multidisciplinary team of researchers from collaborating institutions to create a critical mass of experts for priority areas for health and social care policy. 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, and whilst those areas will continue to be covered by the new Units, 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’s strategic priorities, NIHR has expanded the number of PRUs it will fund for the next cycle. The total 20 new units are set to begin work in January 2024, with each unit receiving £2-5m over the course of a 3 to 5 year contract.
The emerging PRUs will cover the following topic areas:
- Palliative and End of Life Care
- 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.
Assistant Professor Abimbola Ayorinde, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said: “We are excited to be a part of the new Policy Research Unit focussing on reproductive health, which is relevant to the entire population. We will provide policy makers with strong scientific evidence to empower them to make well-informed decisions concerning a wide range of reproductive health issues throughout people’s lives. By adopting a co-production approach, we are committed to involving people with lived experiences in every aspect of our work. Our ultimate vision is to enhance reproductive health for all and address existing inequalities in this important area.”
Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Advisor DHSC and Chief Executive of 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.”
Providing evidence for policy research needs
The PRU system has been running successfully since the 1970s, offering DHSC direct access to top academics in various fields. The units 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 both a long-term resource for policy research and a rapid response service to provide evidence for emerging policy needs.
Findings from NIHR’s PRU in Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis provided reassurance 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 which gave strong support for lung cancer screening in identified high-risk groups such as smokers.
Notes to editors
University of Warwick press office contact:
Communications Officer | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick
The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:
- Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
- Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
- Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
- Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
- Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
- Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.
1 August 2023