From 2014-16, the Academy undertook a project exploring how the UK’s research environment needs to adapt to meet the health challenges the population will face by 2040. This piece of work is now being revisited in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the UK's public health structures.Status: Revisiting
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Health of the public in 2040
The Academy is revisiting the 2016 working group recommendations - please see the associated tab on our 2023 update statement.
Over the coming decades, the UK population will face a wide range of complex health challenges and opportunities, many of which can only be fully addressed through strategies to secure and improve the health of the public as a whole.
The Academy’s report, ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’, explores how to organise our research environment to generate and translate the evidence needed to underpin such strategies. The Academy has since undertaken a variety of activities to implement the report’s recommendations and in 2022, conducted a review of the report's recommendations.
The report concludes that while public health research has provided fundamental insights into human health, there remains much we do not know about the complex array of interlinking factors that influence the health of the public, and about how to prevent and solve the many health challenges we face as a population.
Solving these challenges will require shifting towards a ‘health of the public’ approach, involving disciplines that would not usually be considered to be within the public health field. This is turn requires six key developments:
- Rebalancing and enhancing the coordination of research.
- Harnessing new technologies and the digital revolution.
- Developing transdisciplinary research capacity.
- Aligning perspectives and approaches between clinical and public health practice.
- Working with all sectors of society, including policymakers, practitioners, the commercial sector and the public.
- Engaging globally.
This project was guided by a Working Group of a wide range of experts, chaired by Professor Dame Anne Johnson DBE FMedSci. A full list of Working Group members can be seen here, and project contributors is available here.
The project was kindly supported by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.
Working with its partners and collaborators, the Academy is implementing the recommendations of this report across the breadth of public health research.
In January 2017, the Academy convened an implementation workshop to explore how to implement the recommendations made in the ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’ report. The discussions are summarised in ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040: next steps’. The Academy continues to use the knowledge and expertise of the project’s working group and its Chair, Professor Dame Anne Johnson DBE FMedSci, to inform and guide implementation activities.
The future of public health
To explore key areas where public health research could best contribute to substantial improvements in health and welfare across the UK, the Academy held a workshop in July 2017 to explore ‘The future of public health research’. To deliver research impact, discussions at the workshop and follow up meetings emphasised the need for better collaboration between policy makers, the public, and interdisciplinary researchers using ambitious research challenges and a new funding framework driven by local needs. A summary of these discussions is available here.
Strategic Co-ordinating Body for Health of the Public Research (SCHOPR)
A key recommendation of the ‘Improving the Health of the Public by 2040’ report was to establish a new coordinating body to identify priority areas of research to improve the health of the public and help make sure research is translated into public benefit. To implement this recommendation, a new UK Strategic Co-ordinating Body for Health of the Public Research (SCHOPR), chaired by Professor Dame Anne Johnson FMedSci, has been established as a sub-board of the Office of Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research.
In July 2019, SCHOPR provided the UK Chief Medical Officers with a set of public health research principles and goals aimed at driving improvements in the UK’s offer on health of the public research.
Springboard - Health of the Public 2040
The report emphasises the need to significantly increase transdisciplinary research capability, in a way that harnesses the changing drivers of health. To contribute to this ambition, the Academy launched a new grant scheme called Springboard - Health of the Public 2040 to help further the careers of newly independent researchers working in the health social sciences and medical humanities. A single grant round was administered with a total of 16 awards made in 2017.
The Academy is currently developing a new mid-career scheme for transdisciplinary researchers who wish to tackle a challenge to the health of the public.
The ‘Improving the Health of the Public by 2040’ report emphasises that policy decisions should be guided by a robust understanding of how to most effectively support and improve the health of the public. To facilitate improved use of evidence in policy making, the Academy undertook a joint project with the Royal Society on evidence synthesis. This involved convening joint workshops on ‘Evidence Synthesis: supply and demand’ and ‘Ensuring synthesised evidence is available for policy-making'. These workshops developed a set of principles for good evidence synthesis and identified changes that are needed in the research landscape to support quality synthesised evidence for policy making. The resulting report, Evidence synthesis for policy, can be found on the Royal Society website.
Improving the health of the public through research: an update statement
Since publication of the 2016 working group report there have been many successes, such as the establishment of the Strategic Coordinating Body for Health of the Public Research (SCHOPR), allocated funding for public health research from several funders, inluding the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), improvements in data linkage, and advances in transdisciplinary approaches to research, education and training.
The Academy is revisiting the initial working group report recommendations in light of changes to the public health environment across the UK, including restructures in England and Scotland, the Covid-19 pandemic, cost of living crisis and funding cuts in public health and broader research landscapes.
Embedding evidence in public health
In October 2021, the functions of Public Health England were transferred to two new entities, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID – with a focus on health promotion) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA – with a focus on health protection). Alongside this, the Health and Care Act of 2022 formalised the establishment of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) across England and set out statutory roles for these bodies and NHS England (NHSE) in improving public health and reducing health inequalities.
A year on from the establishment of UKHSA and OHID, the Academy of Medical Sciences convened experts in public health policy, research and practice, from across the UK, to:
- Reflect on the research remits of OHID, UKHSA, NHSE and ICSs.
- Consider the challenges of translating research and evidence into public health policy.
- Identify opportunities for England’s new public health structures, researchers, policymakers and funders to ensure that evidence is utilised effectively to improve public health and respond to health threats.
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