By building capacity and capability in public health research, a report shows how the legacy of a UK-wide network of centres of excellence has helped fuel future public health and prevention research.
Since 2008, partners in the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) have invested £37 million in a network of six Public Health Research Centres of Excellence (UKCRC centres) to increase infrastructure, build academic capacity in public health research in the UK and provide a platform to engage with policy and practice.
The report shows how 10-years of collaborative work by these centres – based in Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cambridge and Cardiff – has exceeded expectations of what was thought possible back in 2008.
The UKCRC centres have expanded the pool of early-career researchers and nurtured their talent while creating new opportunities to work across academia, policy and practice. Researchers have gone on to expand their networks and advance their careers, securing fellowships and lectureships, winning awards and promotion. The UKCRC centres have been a strong magnet for leveraging significant additional funding to increase the volume and quality of public health research.
The centres have helped change the way we think about how to align research with the needs of policymakers and practitioners. By pioneering innovative new ways of responding to public health needs and providing rapid response evaluations for policy and practice partners, their work is helping researchers and practitioners to improve public health at a local level.
At the national level, the impact has been wide-reaching, with evidence from centre research programmes influencing the government sugar tax, encouraging healthy transport policies, providing guidance on physical activity, promoting health in schools and playing a leading role in government policy on tobacco smoking and vaping.
Centre collaborations and academic-policy partnerships have changed the public health landscape, paving the way for ambitious new prevention initiatives, like the UK Prevention Research Partnership.
Professor Chris Whitty, Chair of the UKCRC Board and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “This report shows how this initiative has built research capacity in public health in the UK. Considered untried and risky in 2006, the hard work and collaborative spirit of many researchers, managers and students has strengthened evidence-based public health policy and practice. Without these sorts of achievements, it is hard to see how further ambitious investment like the UK Prevention Research Partnership would have been feasible. I am very grateful to all the research directors that drove this forward, and they should be justly proud of their contribution to the field.”
The UKCRC Centres of Excellence:
- Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland (CoENI), Queen’s University Belfast
- Centre for Exercise, Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge
- The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), Cardiff University
- The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health in Public Health (Fuse) – a collaboration between Newcastle University, Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, the University of Sunderland and Teesside University
- The Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP), University of Edinburgh
- The UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), University of Nottingham.
Read the full UKCRC report (PDF, 4.21MB).
The MRC is a member of the UKCRC, which brings together the NHS, research funders, industry, regulatory bodies, royal colleges, patient groups and academia in a UK-wide environment that facilitates and promotes high-quality clinical research for the benefit of patients. For more information, visit the UKCRC website.
The UKCRC centres funding partners are the MRC, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, NIHR, Economic and Social Research Council, the Public Health Agency, Health and Care Research Wales, Welsh Government, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and Wellcome.