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A new innovative research partnership has been awarded funding to help tackle health inequalities in Plymouth.
The University of Plymouth, in partnership with Plymouth City Council, has been awarded more than £4.7 million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care.
It will mean Plymouth becomes home to a Health Determinants Research Collaboration (HDRC), one of 10 locations across the country to be given funding to set up a collaboration supporting research into the social determinants of health.
For example, it will explore how factors like housing, education, safe streets and a sense of community impact on health and how this creates inequalities across different areas of the city.
The HDRC will help the council to make evidence-based decisions, with the ultimate aim of reducing health inequalities, stimulating economic growth and addressing the challenges faced by the health and care system.
The University will use its share of the funding to adapt an existing and successful embedded research model. This will involve researchers-in-residence working with Plymouth City Council staff and community partners to carry out research and evaluation projects to address the determinants of health inequalities in the city.
Professor Sheena Asthana, Director of the Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) at the University of Plymouth said:
“In order to improve public health and tackle inequalities it is critical that we address the wider determinants of poor health in our city. This can only be done through partnership working, and by bringing in academic expertise from a wide range of disciplines, not all of which will be directly associated with health. The funding provided through the HDRC gives us a unique opportunity to do this in Plymouth and will also provide findings which could be applied to other coastal areas. The University is therefore thrilled to be partnering with the council on this exciting and crucially important venture.” 
Sheena Asthana. Plymouth Pioneers
Professor Sheena Asthana
Dr Ruth Harrell, Plymouth’s Director of Public Health, said:
“Across the city, people are passionate about reducing health inequalities. We can often show the ways in which interventions have helped individuals and see how their lives have improved, but it is really difficult to get the academic evidence to support this, which is needed to drive investment into the right things at population level. This collaboration will help us to develop new interventions and understand if they work, informing our future decisions. It will also enable us to develop the methodologies required to be able to understand what works, how it works and if it will work in different locations or with a different group of people.”  
Plymouth’s HDRC will be supported by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC), and will also involve collaboration with the city’s community and voluntary sector.
Matt Bell, Chief Executive of Plymouth Octopus, said:
“At Plymouth Octopus, we are incredibly excited about the HDRC. We believe the voluntary community and social enterprise sector can play a critical role in connecting research deeply into how we tackle the wicked issue of health inequality. The way the sector and citizen voice are recognised in the HDRC is a testament to the systemic approach the City Council and University have taken.”
The announcement builds on NIHR work started before the COVID-19 pandemic to understand local authorities’ research and evidence challenges.
It demonstrates the Government’s aim to stimulate economic growth in all parts of the country and identify local solutions that address the most difficult challenges across the health and care system. 
Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR CEO, said:
“Millions of people living in Britain’s towns, cities and regions face a huge range of public health challenges, brought into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. This NIHR research funding will provide a foundation to develop local authorities’ capacity and capability to conduct high-quality research. It’s clear that people working in local government have the added advantage of knowing their local areas and communities. This investment will equip them to embed a lasting legacy of research culture to help local populations take important steps forward in tackling health inequalities.”

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Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research

The Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) is a thriving community that conducts adventurous world-leading research with the explicit purpose of improving the health and care of the populations we serve. 
Our work is grounded in the needs of the people of the South West and other rural, coastal, and deprived communities worldwide, but PIHR’s research has national and international reach and impact. 
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The challenges facing coastal communities are increasingly recognised, as new and worrying patterns of deprivation have materialised in peripheral coastal areas across the UK.

The University of Plymouth is one of the few UK Higher Education Institutions with a critical mass of academics with a proven track record of research on coastal communities.

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