Foreword from Professor Kevin Fenton
When PHE took over leadership of the NHS Health Check one of our key commitments was to bring greater scientific rigour and oversight to the programme. Last month we achieved an important milestone on that commitment when the proposed research priorities went out for consultation.
We are all aware of the urgent need to tackle the growing burden of disease associated with certain behavioural and physiological risk factors. The early identification and management of these risks could substantially reduce the morbidity, mortality and health inequalities that result from the diseases they cause. If the NHS Health Check programme is to achieve its potential as one of the largest systematic prevention programmes in the world, it must be grounded in and led by the best possible evidence. That evidence base is currently incomplete. However, we can address this by generating relevant new knowledge and then translating it into practice. This will allow us to better understand the impact of the programme, to maximise its benefits to population health, and to contribute to the international evidence base.
The proposed research priorities paper is a step towards this. The paper includes five strategic priorities:
- generate new knowledge to improve and protect health and bridge gaps in the research base
- build and share a high-quality infrastructure to enable research by PHE and others
- support and develop relevant research capacity in PHE and elsewhere
- drive translation of research into practice in public health
- communicate widely and openly about research and its contribution to improving and protecting health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities
We are now asking our partners and stakeholders to tell us what they think about the priorities so we have the broadest range of views and opinions. However, research is not an end in itself, but a pragmatic exercise that supports delivery of public health by generating new knowledge and applying that knowledge for the public good. Good research must be translated effectively into improved and more efficient practice. We aim to ensure the research priorities are translated into an effective NHS Health Check programme that has the biggest health impact.
Another way we can improve the NHS Health Check is to harness technology to ensure we get smarter in the way we deliver health programmes. That’s why I was pleased to attend the NHS Health Check digital event last week that looked at this issue – how can we use technology to maximise efficiency, cost effectiveness and the health impact of the programme? It was a great to see some of the big tech companies like Apple and IBM in the room alongside smaller innovation companies, commissioners, digital marketing, health academics and public health colleagues. It was a chance to work together to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to some of the challenges faced by the programme. This event provided an important initial conversation about digital opportunities, which we will continue to drive forwards. We will write a paper capturing these discussions and call on organisations to come forward to get involved with the NHS Health Check national conference in February, ensuring a digital presence at the event. It’s these kind of cross-cutting partnerships that PHE is keen to build across all of its programmes, to fully embrace the opportunities within the digital age.