A new national public health research consortium led by the University of Sheffield is set to drive policy reform in order to tackle inequalities and improve the population’s health.
The innovative SIPHER consortium – a new centre for Systems science In Public Health Economic Research – will provide evidence to support cost-effective action across different policy sectors, including economic growth, education and housing at different scales of government.
The consortium was launched as part of a £25 million funding programme from the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) into understanding and influencing the social economic and environmental factors that affect our health.
The UKPRP is a partnership between four charities (British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust and The Health Foundation), four UK Research and Innovation research councils (Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, National Environmental Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and four health and social care departments (Chief Scientist Office, Health and Care Research Wales, Health and Social Care Research and Development Northern Ireland and National Institute for Health Research).
The nationwide grant will fund eight projects addressing the factors behind the prevention of non-communicable diseases – illnesses that can’t be passed from person to person, such as heart disease, obesity, poor mental health, cancer and diabetes. The projects aim to enable people to live longer, healthier lives.
The SIPHER consortium, co-led by Professor Petra Meier and Dr Robin Purshouse, both at the University of Sheffield, was awarded £4.9 million over five years with an additional investment of £1.2 million by project partners. The consortium includes partners from six universities – Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Newcastle and Manchester.
SIPHER research will be coproduced at different scales of government: Sheffield City Council, a council serving half a million people; Greater Manchester Combined Authority, a devolved city-region of ten councils with 2.7 million people, and the Scottish Government, representing a devolved nation of 5.4 million people.
Professor Meier, SIPHER Director and Professor of Public Health at the University of Sheffield, said: “We know that the conditions in which we are born and live are the key drivers of health and health inequalities.
“We also know that tackling these social determinants of health requires actions across many policy sectors, such as housing, education or employment.
“SIPHER’s vision is a shift from public health policy to healthy public policy. This means all policy sectors working together to tackle health inequalities and improve the population’s health.”
The interdisciplinary team will build economic decision models and tools that can support policy design, appraisal and evaluation. These tools will show the synergies and trade-offs that different policies create across a wide range of relevant health and non-health outcomes, and allow the system-wide effects of implemented policies to be understood and monitored over time.
It will focus on understanding the complex interlinkages between the following policy systems and health and health inequalities:
- Inclusive economic growth – which includes policies affecting levels of deprivation, education, employment, quality of work, financial security and how these are distributed across places and population subgroups.
- Adverse childhood experiences – which includes both policies that seek to prevent adverse childhood experiences, and service reforms that seek to interrupt the harmful life trajectories that can be associated with difficult childhoods.
- Housing – which includes policies affecting the affordability, quality and appropriateness of housing.
- Mental health and wellbeing – which includes policies designed to promote and maintain good mental health and wellbeing, focusing on population-level interventions in non-clinical settings.
Dr Purshouse, SIPHER Co-Director and Reader in Decision Modelling and Optimisation at the University of Sheffield, added: “Co-production, initially with three policy partners representing local, regional and national government, is at the heart of SIPHER.
“Beyond the three policy partners, impact will come from our new best-practice evidence framework for supporting cross-sector decision making and from a modelling infrastructure that is readily adaptable to other policy areas and jurisdictions.”
The consortium is keen to develop links to other interested local authorities, city regions and national governments, as well as non-communicable diseases and equality-focused charities and community groups to ensure their new evidence, data, and methods are relevant, credible, transferable and usable by all.
Professor Dame Sally Macintyre, Chair of the UKPRP Scientific Advisory Board and Expert Review Group Panel, said: “These newly funded, well designed projects will help to lift the lid on the social, economic and environmental factors affecting our health.
“By investing in these interdisciplinary teams and drawing on a wide range of knowledge and expertise, UKPRP is supporting work that will have real life benefits for both policy makers and the wider public alike.
“Non-communicable diseases place a huge burden on us all and we hope that this investment will help to provide practical and tangible solutions that will positively impact people’s lives and health.”
For more information about SIPHER, please visit: www.sipher.ac.uk
To find out more about the UKPRP, please visit; https://mrc.ukri.org/research/initiatives/prevention-research/ukprp