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  • At least 75% of our health is determined by social and behavioural factors yet only 5% of the health research budget is spent on prevention and public health research.
  • A world-leading centre of innovation and research, ‘The Nightingale’, is needed to create evidence-based solutions to our biggest health challenges.
  • Failure to invest substantially in prevention research and development will mean continuing increases in health inequalities and further demands on health and social care services.

A report published today by Nesta has called for the creation of a new centre for research and innovation to substantially increase evidence and action to address the social, behavioural and environmental influences on health.

‘The Nightingale’, named after pioneering public health expert Florence Nightingale, would aim to establish evidence-based solutions that could be used to improve health and reduce inequalities across the country. The recommendation comes at a point where despite evidence of rapidly declining returns, the UK continues to increase its investment in biomedical research, spending close to £4 billion each year. On the other hand, experts agree that between 75 to 90% of our health is determined by our environments and behaviours, yet only just over 5% of the health research budget is spent on prevention research .This has meant that successive governments have failed to follow through on rhetorical commitments to prevention because of the lack of research investment to find out what works.

A centre committed to closing this gap in knowledge would help to tackle some of the biggest health challenges facing the UK - including how to address the impact of urban design, social and economic policy, or work environment on our behaviours and overall physical and mental wellbeing. Public health policy could be tailored more effectively, allowing action to be taken early and preventing people from becoming ill in the first place.

The report recommends that;

  • the Nightingale cuts across disciplines (e.g. public health, research, social sciences, data, design and community development) to reflect the multifaceted nature of public health challenges and the impact of local context and experience;
  • It operates on an intensive R&D model that creates evidence-based solutions at pace, using a combination of creative ideas, practical experimentation and rigorous evaluation which goes beyond research alone;
  • A budget of £140 million per year by 2025 is allocated to the centre, equivalent to that of the Francis Crick Institute.

Christina Cornwell, report author and director of health at Nesta, said:

“We have known for decades that the most important influences on our health are the social and economic environments we live in and the impacts this has on our social connections, behaviours and well being. But despite this, we still know far too little about how to take action to address them. Failure to invest seriously in creating evidence-based solutions and action risks seeing avoidable ill health and inequalities continuing to rise well into the future.”

“We need to be ambitious moving forward and that’s why Nesta is calling for the creation of ‘The Nightingale’, a world-renowned centre of excellence in innovation and research, with a substantial investment focused on the social, behavioural and environmental influences on health ”.

Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, said:

“Britain has led the world in research on inequalities in health. The Nightingale represents the next important step: developing world-leading research on how to take action on social and environmental determinants of health to improve health for everybody and reduce inequalities. Its mission reflects the understanding that to achieve positive change we need all three of: the community, science, and government.”

James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care at NHS England and Improvement, said:

“I really welcome this bold and exciting proposal. Our work on personalised care at NHS England and NHS Improvement recognises people want choice and control over the way their care, based on ‘what matters’ to them and their individual strengths, needs and preferences. This can only happen within a system that makes the most of the expertise, capacity and potential of people, families and communities, which themselves rely on social, behavioural and environmental factors. A research institute like The Nightingale would be a vital contribution to the overall culture change we seek across the health and care sector, and will provide practical, actionable insights that will support personalised care to be business as usual across health and care.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information contact Wallis Grant in Nesta’s press office on 020 7438 2581 or 07557 162 651, [email protected]

Further comments

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation said:

“Creating the conditions for healthy lives is a challenge for the whole of society, not just the responsibility of the health care system. Meeting this challenge will require the best thinking across a wide range of disciplines, including design and economics, psychology and engineering. It will need solutions worked out with communities, not simply in the lab. The report authors have rightly highlighted the need for a much better evidence base on what works to improve people’s health.”

About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society. We've spent over 20 years working out the best ways to make change happen through research and experimenting, and we've applied that to our work in innovation policy, health, education, government innovation and the creative economy and arts. Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.

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