£4M funding boost for Bristol’s Health Protection Research Unit

Bristol is to benefit from a £4M funding boost from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to fund a new Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation.

The investment is part of the NIHR’s £58.7M investment into research to protect the public’s health from threats such as antimicrobial resistance, air pollution and infectious diseases. The funding will be used to create 14 Health Protection Research Units that will conduct high-quality research enhancing the ability of Public Health England (PHE) to use innovative techniques to protect the public’s health and minimise the health impact of emergencies.

These multidisciplinary centres of excellence, which launch in April and run for five years, will be partnerships between top universities including the University of Bristol and PHE.

From 1 April 2020, when the new funding period begins, the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Evaluation of Interventions at Bristol will become the NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, reflecting the Unit’s expanded scope to use insights into health behaviour in the design, evaluation and implementation of public health interventions.

The NIHR funding will inject an additional £11.2m into the current HPRUs scheme and includes a new unit specialising in genomics and enabling data. Other topics that the units will specialise in include environmental change and health, hospital-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance, blood borne and sexually transmitted infections, and chemical and radiation threats and hazards.

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: “The UK’s achievements in public health to date have saved the lives of millions of people. This would have been impossible without world-leading research conducted by some of brightest minds up and down the country.

“The latest round of NIHR’s Health Protection Research Units, which have previously played a pivotal role in responding to major events such as the Novichok and Ebola incidents, will continue protect the health of the public and reduce inequalities – helping us all live healthier lives.”

Prof Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE, said: “Tackling major public health threats such as antimicrobial resistance, emerging infections and air pollution requires innovative, collaborative research. Our partnerships with leading universities play a critical role in building the science that keeps us safe – not just from current threats, but the health challenges of tomorrow.”

Professor Matthew Hickman, Professor in Public Health and Epidemiology – Deputy Head of School and Head of Bristol Medical School (PHS), said: “We are delighted that funding for our work developing and evaluating effective and cost-effective interventions to protect the public’s health will continue for the next five years. Together with partners, we will co-design a programme of research to support Public Health England tackle some of the biggest health threats nationally and globally. We look forward to continuing our previous successful partnership and expanding our research capacity in behavioural science.”

Professor Isabel Oliver, Director of Field Epidemiology for Public Health England and a Visiting Professor at Bristol’s Medical School, said: “Our work in partnership with the University of Bristol will ensure that Public Health England remains at the cutting edge of applied health protection research and it will help us deliver the objectives set out in PHE’s new five-year strategic plan, and its ambitious Infectious Disease Strategy. We are looking forward to continuing to work with our colleagues at the University of Bristol, and with other partners from across the HPRU programme.”

Professor Richard Amlôt, Scientific Programme Leader of the Behavioural Science Team based in the Emergency Response Department at PHE. “The renewed focus on the application of behavioural and social science to health protection is a welcome and timely addition to the new HPRU. In its new Five-Year Strategy, Public Health England seeks to optimise how we use behavioural science to tackle a range of public health challenges. The work of the new HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation provides an excellent opportunity to realise this ambition.”

All the new HPRUs will have an additional focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing, and will play a pivotal role in maintaining and growing PHE’s scientific expertise and future workforce. The new units will also deliver responsive research to tackle emerging or potential public health emergencies.

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