National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI)

Through four NPRI funding calls between 2005-11, £34m was invested into 74 research projects that focused on risk reduction and/or health behaviour change relating to four major risk factors for NCDs – alcohol, tobacco smoking, diet and physical inactivity.

  • alcohol consumption
  • smoking
  • diet
  • physical inactivity

The NPRI transformed the UK’s funding landscape for prevention-related research and important lessons were learnt which have been incorporated into the current UKPRP initiative. In particular, a 2015 review of NPRI recommended:

  • an increased emphasis in population health research on solving problems rather than simply describing them
  • a greater focus on developing interventions that act at a level other than the individual (for example at group, community or population level)
  • more research into the cost effectiveness of prevention strategies, as well as the modelling of likely long-term impact on disease outcomes
  • addressing areas of disproportionate need, such as in low socio-economic groups, ethnic minorities and poor mental health.

Further information on NPRI, including reports and details of research projects can be found at MRC: NPRI.

Improving the Health of the Public by 2040

The 2016 report on ‘Improving the Health of the Public by 2040’ by the Academy of Medical Sciences is an important precursor to the UKPRP. The report identified the challenges and opportunities for research into preventing NCDs and reducing inequalities in health. It considered several environments which influence health and health behaviours, and for each environment, identified gaps in the evidence which research should aim to address.

The report also concluded that current biomedical approaches to research are unable to solve major problems such as obesity and dementia. This is because most public health research (and the models of funding that support it) is predicated on the assumption that the desired outcome is achievable as long as the ‘right’ intervention is used. However, such complex problems may not be fixed by single interventions with a linear causal pathway, but instead may be more responsive to multiple actions within a complex adaptive system.

Developing effective intervention strategies requires understanding of these complex inter-linkages, which can only be achieved through multidisciplinary research.

Strategic Coordination of Health of the Public Research (SCHOPR)

SCHOPR was established in early 2018 following a recommendation in the Academy of Medical Sciences report, ‘Improving the Health of the Public by 2040’. It is a coordinating body established to develop and deliver a transdisciplinary strategy for UK Health of the Public research and to identify priority areas of research to meet the strategy. SCHOPR is a sub-board of the Office of Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research (OSCHR) and chaired by Professor Dame Anne Johnson.

In autumn 2018, the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) across the four UK nations requested that SCHOPR develop research goals and principles for population health to guide funding decisions, and SCHOPR consulted stakeholders on the matter. On 24 September 2019, Professor Dame Anne Johnson presented SCHOPR’s recommendations at an event hosted by the UK Prevention Research Partnership to support its second funding round. The slides are available to download (PPT, 587KB).

Full details of SCHOPR’s recommendations to the CMOs were subsequently published in October 2019 on the Academy of Medical Sciences website and was covered in a blog by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England and the UK government’s Chief Medical Adviser.