Health Research Policy and Systems
[Accessed 7 January 2017]
Building health research systems: WHO is generating global perspectives, and who’s celebrating national successes?
Stephen R. Hanney and Miguel A. González-Block
Published on: 28 December 2016
In 2016, England’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) celebrated its tenth anniversary as an innovative national health research system with a focus on meeting patients’ needs. This provides a good opportunity to reflect on how the creation of the NIHR has greatly enhanced important work, started in 1991, to develop a health research system in England that is embedded in the National Health Service.
In 2004, WHO identified a range of functions that a national health research system should undertake to improve the health of populations. Health Research Policy and Systems (HRPS) has taken particular interest in the pioneering developments in the English health research system, where the comprehensive approach has covered most, if not all, of the functions identified by WHO. Furthermore, several significant recent developments in thinking about health research are relevant for the NIHR and have informed accounts of its achievements. These include recognition of the need to combat waste in health research, which had been identified as a global problem in successive papers in the Lancet, and an increasing emphasis on demonstrating impact. Here, pioneering evaluation of United Kingdom research, conducted through the impact case studies of the Research Excellence Framework, is particularly important. Analyses informed by these and other approaches identified many aspects of NIHR’s progress in combating waste, building and sustaining research capacity, creating centres of research excellence linked to leading healthcare institutions, developing research networks, involving patients and others in identifying research needs, and producing and adopting research findings that are improving health outcomes.
The NIHR’s overall success, and an analysis of the remaining problems, might have lessons for other systems, notwithstanding important advances in many countries, as described in papers in HRPS and elsewhere. WHO’s recently established Global Observatory for Health Research and Development provides an opportunity to promote some of these lessons. To inform its work, the Observatory is sponsoring a thematic series of papers in HRPS focusing on health research issues such as funding flows, priority setting, capacity building, utilisation and equity. While important papers on these have been published, this series is still open to new submissions.