PH Connect members have been part of a successful University of Hertfordshire led bid to become one of four Public Health Interventions Responsive Studies Teams or PHIRSTs funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

PHIRSTs are teams of experienced academics ready to provide timely, robust and co-produced evaluations of public health interventions. The Central PHIRST are based at the University of Hertfordshire (UH) and led by Professor Katherine Brown and Professor Wendy Wills. They are collaborating with several others from the School of Life and Medical Sciences and the School of Health and Social Work at UH as well as the University of East Anglia, The University of Birmingham and Ulster University.

The Central PHIRST began its work on 1st August 2020 and the team are engaged in a number of exciting cutting-edge evaluations across the UK. They’re working with Leeds City Council and

a range of organisations across the city who deliver drug and alcohol outreach and treatment and recovery support. The aim is to evaluate the impact that the move to remote models of delivery during the covid-19 pandemic had on services, staff and service users and to understand how best to configure services in future based on the learning.

In Wales, Central PHIRST are engaged in a similar evaluation of the move to remote service delivery during the pandemic for the National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS). They have also just begun work in the East of Scotland exploring the potential for evaluation of a set of pilot schemes aiming to take a Whole Systems Approach to Diabetes prevention and supporting healthy weight across the population.

This novel PHIRST initiative funded by NIHR is part of a broader range of activities aimed at driving the production of critical research evidence and capacity-building that will support the provision of optimal public health services and

interventions for the future. So much excellent work to support health and wellbeing is delivered by local authorities and their partners across the UK and now we have an opportunity to capture and share that evidence in high quality evaluations. The Central PHIRST places co-production with a range of stakeholders including service users at the heart of its methods, and mobilising and translating the evidence into service and intervention provision will also be a core part of their activities.

Local authorities and their partners are invited to submit expressions of interest to have their public health interventions evaluated by one of the PHIRSTs. More information is available here.

The NIHR have committed to funding this initiative in the long-term. Appointed PHIRSTs will have five years of funding and teams will be invited to apply to secure funding as a PHIRST in five-year intervals thereafter. They are currently recruiting a fifth team – more information available here.

NIHR Central PHIRST looks forward to sharing their findings with PH Connect – so watch this space!

For information about our work please feel free to get in touch