The UK government has launched a new research programme which will evaluate the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-National Health Service interventions aimed at improving public health and reducing health inequalities.

The Public Health Research Programme has been established by the National Institute for Health Research, with funding that will increase in each of the next three years to reach £10 million annually. Launching the Programme, Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo pointed to the need for reliable, relevant evidence on the most effective ways of protecting from disease, preventing illness and promoting good health. “This information can only come from research,” she said.

Professor Sally Davies, director-general of R&D at the Department of Health, said the programme will aim to address the current shortage of research into the effectiveness and impact of interventions that can have real effects on public health. “The substantial budget for this programme will give it the scope to fund both smaller-scale studies and large studies of national or international importance, which may be beyond the capacity of most other funders,” she added.

The Programme will be managed by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centres (NETS-CC), based at the University of Southampton. It will have two modes of operation; there will be commissioning capacity to advertise prioritised topics, themed calls and linked research projects, but the majority of funding will be in response to proposals, taking applications for both primary and secondary research and assessing them at regular intervals. The programme will look to fund primary research at all phases but especially “pragmatic evaluation” studies, says the Department. The first call for research proposals will take place in November 2008.