New regional collaboration to support Public Health Evaluation

A team from the Universities of Loughborough, Nottingham and Lincoln have been awarded £2.5 million by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to deliver evaluations of public health initiatives across the UK.

The Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Team (PHIRST) scheme was launched in 2019, and funds academic teams to provide timely and accessible research to local authorities (LAs) that are keen to have their work evaluated.

Each PHIRST group acts as a ‘ready to go’ evaluation team and delivers a rolling programme of evaluations in response to LA requests.

This collaboration, led by the University of Nottingham, is the fifth PHIRST award to be made by the NIHR, and provides funding for 5 years from early 2022.

Each project will be run in collaboration with the relevant local authority, with co-designed plans and initiatives to build long term evaluative capacity in the LA itself. 

The project team combines expertise and experience across public health, working with local and national government, community research, impact, and a range of research methodologies. The team comprises:

  • University of Nottingham: Dr Elizabeth Orton (Associate Professor and Consultant in Public Health) overall lead, in collaboration with Prof. Denise Kendrick (Professor of Primary Care Research), Prof. Pip Logan (Professor of Rehabilitation Research and Occupational Therapist), Prof. Jo Leonardi-Bee (Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology), Dr Joanne Morling (Associate Professor and Consultant in Public Health) and Prof. Adam Gordon (Professor of the Care of Older People).
  • Loughborough University: Professor Lauren Sherar (Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health) and Dr Jo Barnes (Senior Lecturer).
  • University of Lincoln: Professor Mark Gussy (Global Professor in Rural Health and Social Care) and Dr Julie Bayley (Director of Research Impact Development and the Lincoln Impact Literacy Institute, Health Psychologist).
  • Patient representative: Pamela Rees.

The group is well connected with regional Public Health and Local Authority leads, and throughout the work will connect with the wider PHIRST community to share practice. 

Dr Orton, project lead, said: “I’m so privileged to lead such a talented team of public health researchers, who are each international experts in their own right.

“As a Consultant in Public Health in a Local Authority I know how challenging it is to ensure that what we do is based on the best available evidence as often that evidence just doesn’t exist.

“The PHIRST initiative will make a significant contribution to providing that evidence base and achieve even wider impact by sharing findings across the public health community.

“The PHIRST evaluation programmes will also build future research capacity in the local authorities that they work with and the communities that they serve.”

Professor Lauren Sherar said: “It is fantastic to have this collaboration in the East Midlands. By working in partnership, we can not only cement stronger links between our respective universities, but also draw together a far stronger regional footprint for public health excellence and local impact.”

Professor Derek Ward, Director of Public Health, Lincolnshire County Council said: “I am delighted that the NIHR have decided to fund a new PHIRST team led by a team based here in the East Midlands.

“Whilst PHIRSTs provide support for local authorities anywhere in the country, having brilliant academics in our local universities, who understand the region and it’s challenges, will inevitably improve the quality and effectiveness of the public health services we provide right here in the East Midlands.

“As Directors of Public Health we are eager to start working with the team and we hope this will be the start of a strengthening of public health research across the region.”

More information on the PHIRST programme is available via the NIHR website, or by contacting


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/123

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.