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Public Health Research

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions, intended to improve the health of the public, and reduce inequalities in health.




The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales, and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

The primary aim of the programme is the evaluation of practical interventions which have the potential to be delivered at scale, in order to generate evidence to support public health decision making and lead to sustainable population level change. We will fund both primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis); precise methods will need to be appropriate to the question being asked, and the feasibility of the research.

Our research serves a variety of key stakeholders including: decision-makers in local government; primary care organisations and other local public services; third sector organisations; relevant national agencies (e.g. NICE) concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities; researchers; public health practitioners, and the public.

We fund research through our commissioned and researcher-led workstreams. The researcher-led workstream offers the flexibility for ambitious evaluations of public health interventions. If a case can be made for its potential value to public health, scientific quality and value for money, there is no upper limit to the amount of funding that can be applied for. Applications can be made at any point, with three cut-off dates throughout the year. Multi-factorial research will be considered.

All of our funded projects are eligible for publication in the NIHR Journals Library. This open access resource is freely available online, and provides a full and permanent record of NIHR-funded research.


Our scope is multi-disciplinary and broad, covering a wide range of interventions that improve public health.

The programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions, specifically, we provide new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider impacts of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public, and reduce inequalities in health.

Proposed primary outcome measures should always be health-related, unless otherwise specified in a commissioning brief.

Project examples include studies evaluating interventions to reduce air pollution and model scenarios, evaluations of transport and traffic initiatives; evaluations of interventions to tackle obesity such as Football Fans in Training, supermarket placement, takeaway food outlet policy and an evaluation of an early years nutrition and physical activity intervention; evaluating the health impacts of Universal Credit; evaluations of community based initiatives such as Age-friendly environments and community health assets; the evaluation of changes to alcohol outlet density and opening hours on alcohol harm; evaluation of tobacco policies and initiatives e.g. the impacts of e-cigarette legislation on young people’s use of e-cigarettes and the health benefits of smokefree prisons.

Applicants wishing to evaluate public health interventions that sit both inside and outside of the NHS, or on the boundary, are encouraged to discuss their proposals with PHR Programme staff at an early stage.

Large-scale studies

The PHR Programme is also keen to see applications for large-scale evaluation studies with the potential for national reach. This means primary research projects which:

  • address an issue of major strategic public health importance, with the cost in line with the significance of the problem to be investigated
  • are likely to lead to changes in practice that will have a significant impact on a large number of the population across the UK
  • aim to fill a clear 'evidence gap', and likely to generate new knowledge
  • have the potential for findings that are generalisable and transferable
  • bring together a team with strong expertise and track record across the full range of relevant disciplines

If you are planning a project of this type you may wish to refer to the MRC Complex Interventions Framework.

What we fund

The PHR Programme will support

  • Applications focused on intervention development where an intervention already exists, and for which there is an evidence base, but it requires adaptation to situations such as a new context (e.g. a change in setting or target behaviour or client group) or amalgamation of separate, defined interventions so that they complement each other.
  • Where a compelling case is made, we will also fund work to establish feasibility and to pilot a definitive intervention. However, any work related to optimising an existing intervention prior to evaluation, where research has shown that the intervention performs sub-optimally and there are specific remediable aspects of the intervention, such as the delivery method or the timing of elements, must not exceed 6-months in duration.

The PHR Programme will not support

  • The creation of new interventions*, or processes, where active components of existing interventions are recombined to create a new intervention, whether or not driven by a logic model, or underlying theory.
  • The design and development of new websites, apps, text messages or other software designed as all, or part of, creating a new intervention. Websites or other supporting material with the aim of publicising the study or supporting study recruitment, for example, which is only required to carry out the research study, would be supported within the general rules of the programme, as would material associated with the optimisation of an existing intervention prior to evaluation.

*The creation of new interventions would likely fall under the remit of the MRC Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) Programme.

See the success rates for PHR proposals.

Our people

In this section you can read more on the people involved with the assessment of applications for the PHR Programme, read the minutes of previous funding decisions and find out more about becoming a reviewer or a Committee member.

Our committees

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme has two committees of experts who play an important role in assessing our stage 1 and stage 2 proposals and identifying topics for research.

The PHR Prioritisation Committee (view list of prioritisation committee members) advises on the identification and prioritisation of research topics and stage 1 proposals based on public health importance. Those successful applicants are assessed by the PHR Funding Committee (view list of funding committee members) based on their scientific quality, feasibility, and value for money.

Members of NIHR Committees are required to declare any interests which conflict, or may be considered to conflict, with NIHR business, or may be perceived as influencing decisions made in the course of their work within NIHR. All members are asked to complete the Register of Interest form (annually), which is intended to capture long term predictable interests that could be perceived to lead to conflicts of interest. These and other interests are judged on a case by case basis at individual meetings.

Our  Programme Director and Prioritisation Committee Chair

Professor Brian Ferguson

Our Funding Committee Chair

Professor Peymane Adab


Our community of reviewers play a vital part in maintaining and improving the quality of the PHR Programme projects and outputs. They are sought from a variety of fields, including from those who work in and use health and social care  services.

To demonstrate our gratitude to our reviewers, and acknowledge the important work they do for the programme, the names of the past year reviewers can be found on our reviewers list.

Contact us

We offer a wide variety of assistance during all stages of the research process. If in doubt, please get in touch. For help with applying for PHR funding, please contact us:


Local Authority research

Health Determinant Research Collaborations

Funding has been assigned for five new Health Determinant Research Collaborations (HDRC), an initiative to help enable local government to become more research active. These HDRCs will focus on how to address the wider determinants of population health and health inequalities, explicitly addressing the needs of local disadvantaged groups. Each HDRC will be expected to link with higher education institutions, capitalising on both the experience that exists within local government and the research skills of the public health academic community. This will support the development of expertise, and the generation of research evidence, creating a cycle of evidence-informed interventions and ultimately better outcomes for the public.

A blog by Professor Brian Ferguson provides an insight into the strategic thought behind the investment. HDRC applications have been shortlisted and we expect that awards will be made in mid-2022.

The PHIRST scheme

We are keen to enable local government to be research active. One way we are doing this is through the Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) scheme which links academic teams with local authorities to evaluate work that is already happening in local government across the UK. Our funded research aims to help find out what impact these schemes have on the health and health inequalities experienced by local populations. Find out more about exploring how to support local government health research.

A blog by Dr Helen Walters, NIHR Public Health Consultant Advisor, provides the thinking behind its creation.

Local authorities who wish to apply to the PHIRST scheme can do so through our rolling open call (please search through the list for PHIRST).

Our PHIRST teams are currently supporting evaluation of twenty-four initiatives. We have recently recruited a further two academic teams to the PHIRST Scheme and they will start evaluating initiatives in Spring 2022.

Fast-track scheme

Fast-track scheme

Most research supported by the PHR Programme will follow the normal two-stage process of assessment before being funded. However, it may sometimes be necessary to accelerate the handling of a topic and in such circumstances researchers may be eligible to apply through the fast-track scheme.

The fast-track scheme provides an opportunity to submit a stage 2 proposal directly, shortening the length of time it takes for a funding decision to be made. However, please bear in mind that proposals accepted onto the fast-track scheme will compete on equal terms with other stage 2 proposals which have had the benefit of feedback by the Research Funding Committee at stage 1.

The most obvious indication for fast-tracking is to take advantage of a time-limited opportunity to conduct research. This may be when research is needed around a natural experiment where data collection needs to start within a timescale which can’t be accommodated by the programme’s normal processes.

If you would like your proposal to be considered for the fast-track scheme, please contact You will be asked to:

  • convince the secretariat that there is significant benefit to fast-tracking your application, and
  • submit a written summary of your proposal (usually about one side of A4) in a PICO format.

The information you provide will then be considered, and you will be informed whether your proposal is eligible for fast-tracking. You will then be provided with more information about submitting your stage 2 application, and the timescales for doing this.

Latest funding opportunities for Public Health Research

22/127 Adult drug screening and brief interventions in key health, social care and justice settings

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is accepting direct-to-Stage 2 applications to this funding opportunity.

22/118 Public Health Research Programme researcher-led

The Public Health Research Programme are accepting stage 1 applications to their researcher-led workstream.

22/119 Continuing priority research topics of interest to the PHR Programme

The Public Health Research Programme are accepting stage 1 applications to their commissioned workstream for this topic. For this call, we wish to draw your attention to the following commissioning briefs that we have previously advertised. These represent enduring gaps in our portfolio that we would like to fill with high quality research.

22/120 NIHR James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnerships rolling call (PHR Programme)

The Public Health Research Programme are accepting stage one applications to their researcher-led workstream. The programme recognises the importance of the research priorities identified by the James Lind Alliance (JLA) Priority Setting Partnerships (PSP) and are interested in receiving high-quality applications which address them.

22/121 NIHR NICE rolling call (PHR Programme)

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is accepting stage one applications to this funding opportunity. The programme is interested in receiving applications to meet recommendations in research identified in NICE guidance that has been published or updated since 2015.

All Public Health Research funding opportunities

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