PHIRST for golden opportunities to create public health evidence

Fuse is leading one of six UK public health research teams that are supporting local government organisations to rapidly evaluate initiatives that aim to improve health in their communities - part of an innovative £15m NIHR scheme that can be accessed now.

The NIHR Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) scheme complements our existing partnership with the recently announced NIHR Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs), which aim to enable local government to become more research-active.

Find out more about the PHIRST scheme on the newly launched website and submit your expressions of interest here.

Local government organisations play a vital role in their communities to positively influence public health and health inequalities. Local initiatives are important and often innovative but local government teams have not always been able to benefit from the research and evaluation support they might have wanted or needed.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) scheme seeks to address this gap. To date NIHR has invested approximately £15 million in PHIRST and there are currently six PHIRST teams, fully-funded, and ready and waiting to produce robust health-related evaluations of local initiatives.

Fuse Director Ashley Adamson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Newcastle University, leads PHIRST Fusion, a collaboration led by Fuse in partnership with Queen's University Belfast, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Sheffield. 

Evaluations are co-produced with local government teams, with public involvement and engagement key to ensuring that the research answers the most important questions facing decision-makers. Evaluation outputs are tailored to local government needs. In this way, PHIRST seeks to provide an opportunity to learn from local initiatives, and generate an evidence base on which future local government decision-making can be based.

The newly launched PHIRST website will be used to share the learning from this research locally, nationally, and internationally. It will also provide a valuable resource for local government teams who are keen to submit an expression of interest to have an intervention of their own evaluated.

Professor Adamson said: “The PHIRST teams bring new and exciting opportunities and funding to work in real partnership with local governments from across the UK. The funding is used for evaluation of innovative public health interventions delivered locally; this explores both what works but also how interventions could be improved. The NIHR PHIRST website will make sure that learning from local innovations in public health delivery can be shared with others nationally and internationally.”

The NIHR is keen to build capacity in preventive and public health research. The PHIRST scheme is key to this ambition, and forms part of the NIHR’s Public Health Research (PHR) Programme. Fuse is at the forefront of this work, as this scheme also complements our existing partnership in the recently announced NIHR Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs), which aim to enable local government to become more research-active. PHIRST also complements the Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) of the NIHR School for Public Health Research, of which Fuse is a founding member.

The gap between academia and public health practice has often caused difficulties, but PHIRST seeks to bridge that gap. Dr Helen Walters, NIHR Public Health Consultant Advisor, explains: “When I was a Director of Public Health in London, I knew that my team was delivering innovative schemes that affected large numbers of people. Our hope was that the schemes would improve health and reduce the health inequalities experienced by some highly deprived populations. But we didn’t really know whether they were achieving this. We were basing these schemes on the little evidence that was available, but we could not find a way to get them evaluated to build that evidence-base any further. Golden opportunities to learn and evaluate were being lost.”

To date, the PHIRST teams have worked on a range of evaluations, with examples including: remote provision of drug and alcohol services in Leeds; provision of universal free school meals in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham; voluntary-sector-led delivery of employment support in Fife; and an adaptation of an exercise referral scheme in Wales. 

The call for expressions of interest is currently open: please visit the call page and view key information on the NIHR website.

The current round for submitting expressions of interest is open until 31 Jan 2023.

Last modified: Tue, 08 Nov 2022 12:59:48 GMT