New research funding to help shape future health and social care policies

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has announced over £100 million in funding to establish 20 new Policy Research Units (PRUs) across England, including to the University of Sheffield.

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The funding will support research programmes that will tackle important long-standing and emerging health and social care issues, and ensure policy makers have the best possible information and evidence available when making decisions about health and social care services. 

The funding will support two PRUs at the University of Sheffield which will focus on health economics and addictions.

A £5.5 million funding award from the NIHR will support the creation of a PRU investigating addictions, a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, King’s College London and the University of Glasgow.

Professor John Holmes from the University of Sheffield and Co-Director of the NIHR Policy Research Unit for Addictions said: "The new Addictions Policy Research Unit will expand the University of Sheffield's influential work on alcohol policy to include tobacco, gambling and illicit drugs policy - and the links between these policy areas. We have been developing this wider research programme over recent years and are pleased to have the opportunity to do so. We will work closely with the Government to identify research priorities and support their decision-making."

Professor Ann McNeill from King’s College London and Co-Director of the NIHR Policy Research Unit for Addictions, said: “We are delighted to have this unique opportunity to help shape effective addictions policy in the coming years by working closely with both subject experts and experts by experience from a UK-wide consortium. We are particularly pleased that, as well as examining specific addictive products (tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and gambling) and policies to prevent their harms, we will be able to look at the interactions between all of these for policymakers.”

Heather Wardle, Professor of Gambling Research and Policy, University of Glasgow, said: "We're delighted that gambling has been included in the new Addictions Policy Research Unit, raising the profile and esteem of gambling research and policy in an unprecedented way. Working with a talented team of researchers, we'll be able to look at commonalities and differences across addictive behaviours and products to support effective policy development.”

A further £5.5 million will continue to support the Economic Methods of Evaluation in Health & Care Intervention PRU (EEPRU), which the University of Sheffield currently collaborates on with the University of York.

The EEPRU works to assess the value for money of treatments, medical technologies, services and policies relating to health and social care. It also will continue to develop methods for evaluation and policy frameworks to ensure value for money is achieved from public funding.

Professor Allan Wailoo, Co-Director of EEPRU from the University of Sheffield’s School of Medicine and Population Health, said: “The programme of work this long-term award funds, will help ensure value for money in health and social care policies to the benefit of patients, their carers and taxpayers alike. The award reflects a continued investment in this York/Sheffield collaboration and is recognition of the highest calibre research undertaken by my colleagues.”

Professor Mark Sculpher, Co-Director of EEPRU and Director of University of York’s Centre for Health Economics, said: “CHE has now been awarded funding for these two units since 2010, which has provided a wonderful platform to undertake long-term research which has directly informed policy decisions.”

The PRUs main aim is to support policy makers in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and their arm’s length bodies including NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to respond to policy research needs and develop research programmes that provide evidence for current and emerging research priorities. 

The PRU system has been running successfully since the 1970s, offering the DHSC direct access to top academics in various fields. 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.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Advisor, DHSC 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.”

Find out more about the NIHR’s announcement today here.

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