Millions of people are set to benefit from a £50m research boost to tackle health inequalities in local areas and improve health outcomes across the country.
The significant investment, overseen by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), will enable 13 local authorities to set up pioneering Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs) between experts and academics to address knowledge gaps in local areas.
This will enable new high-quality research into the local challenges affecting people’s health, such as facilitating research to better understand and introduce interventions to help with childhood obesity, COVID recovery, mental wellbeing, and drug use.
A level playing field for all
Local authorities up and down the UK are being awarded funding – from Plymouth and London to Newcastle and Aberdeen – to ensure health disparities are being addressed across the board.
This forms a key part of the Government’s Plan for Patients by supporting people to stay well and within the community, easing pressure on health and care services and enabling people to access the care they need, when they need it.
Minister of State for Health, Robert Jenrick, said: “The pandemic shone a light on the stark health inequalities that exist across the country – and we are committed to levelling up the health of the nation.
“This funding will drive progress to address health challenges locally, particularly in the places and communities most affected by ill health such as high levels of obesity, drug use, and poor mental health.
“Everyone should be able to live long, healthy lives, regardless of their background and where they live, and this new research will help us deliver on our ambition.”
Stimulating economic growth
This is the first time funding for research into health disparities has been given to local authorities for them to lead on innovative new projects within their communities.
The pandemic shone a light on the stark health inequalities that exist across the country – and we are committed to levelling up the health of the nation
Every collaboration will be set up in partnership with universities and local government, capitalising on the world-leading experience and skills of the academic community.
This will support the development of better data and evidence to inform local decisions to improve people’s health and reduce variations in healthy life expectancy between rich and poor.
The funding will also help to stimulate economic growth across the country, particularly in some of the most-deprived areas, by creating new jobs within research, as well as identifying local solutions to address some of the key challenges facing our society such as obesity and poor mental wellbeing.
Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR chief executive, said: “Millions of people living in Britain’s towns, cities, and regions face a huge range of public health challenges, brought into focus during the COVID pandemic.
“This NIHR research funding will provide a foundation to develop local authorities’ capacity and capability to conduct high-quality research.
“It’s clear that people working in local government have the added advantage of knowing their local areas and communities.
“And this investment will equip them to embed a lasting legacy of research culture to help local populations take important steps forward in tackling health inequalities.”
Centres of excellence
Professor Brian Ferguson, director of the NIHR Public Health Research Programme, added: “Many people living in communities across the country are facing major challenges that are impacting on their health.
“Our newly-launched HDRCs will serve as nationally-recognised centres of excellence, boosting local government’s ability to tackle these challenges by enabling breathing space to become more research active.
“This is a hugely-important step forward in one of NIHR’s key aims to help local government develop research that improves health and wellbeing.
“By focusing on the wider determinants of health, such as employment, housing, education, and the physical environment, the areas we are supporting have a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting impact on health inequalities and wider deprivation.”
Our newly-launched HDRCs will serve as nationally-recognised centres of excellence, boosting local government’s ability to tackle these challenges by enabling breathing space to become more research active
The HDRCs will help drive the research culture within local government, building on the local knowledge that authorities already have and enabling what is being done to be more readily researched and evaluated to make a difference to local people.
A culture of research
In addition to the research funding, staff working across the health and social care sector will also be better equipped to tackle health inequalities following the publication of a new e-learning resource developed by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and Health Education England (HEE).
The free-to-access module brings together bite-size learning on what health inequalities are, as well as the actions and interventions that frontline staff, leaders, and commissioners can take to address them in their day-to-day work.
The HDRCs which will receive funding are: Tower Hamlets Council, Newcastle City Council, Doncaster Council, Aberdeen City Council, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Plymouth City Council, Gateshead Council, Blackpool Council, Coventry City Council, Middlesbrough Council and Redcar & Cleveland Council; Medway Council, Islington Council, and The London Borough of Lambeth