Sheena Asthana

Academic profile

Professor Sheena Asthana

Director of Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research
Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health)

The Global Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Sheena's work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

Goal 01: SDG 1 - No PovertyGoal 03: SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-beingGoal 05: SDG 5 - Gender EqualityGoal 08: SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic GrowthGoal 10: SDG 10 - Reduced InequalitiesGoal 11: SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGoal 14: SDG 14 - Life Below WaterGoal 16: SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong InstitutionsGoal 17: SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

About Sheena

Having been the (founding) Director of the Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research, I have recently assumed Directorship of the Centre for Health Technology, a focus of significant ambition and investment for the University. I am also the co-Director of the Centre for Coastal Communities, the first of its kind in the UK.

My original training was in global public health. Following an undergraduate degree in Geography at Oxford University (for which I was awarded a congratulatory First), I undertook my doctoral training at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My PhD (in Community Medicine) focused on the role of community-based strategies in promoting health development in Indian slum communities and led to (WHO-funded) research on the scope for developing community-based responses to HIV prevention (again in India) with particular reference to commercial sex circuits and circuits of men who have sex with men.

I still publish and teach on issues relating to global public health. However, as I began to have the first of my five children, I shifted my research interests towards the UK. With respect to public health, examples include the largest local evaluation of a Health Action Zone, co-writing a major book on health inequalities and evidence-based public health and the chapter on coastal health inequalities in the 2021 Chief Medical Officer’s annual report and being a board member of the Royal Society for Public Health, a non-executive director (with the public health remit) of NICE and a non-executive director of Devon Integrated Care Board, with the remit for population health management, health inequalities and digital transformation. I recently stepped down from the board of Change Grow Live (though remain on its research committee). This is a national charity that provides, among other services, support for substance use, domestic abuse, children’s mental health and prisoner’s health. I have learnt a lot from CGL’s ‘Whole Person’ approach and this has complemented current collaborative research on social prescribing, integrated care and the use of the ‘researcher in residence’ methodology to support participative research and practice. I am also the principal investigator or co-application on a range of public health funded projects, including the NIHR funded Plymouth Health Determinants Research Collaboration (£5m).

At the other end of the spectrum, I have also established a large programme of health services research that involves the use of extensive health service, public health and related datasets and largely quantitative research methods. For example, with Alex Gibson, an important focus has been the use of synthetic estimation techniques (within a Bayesian analytical framework) to develop robust methods of estimating the prevalence of specific diseases and disease risk factors. We have used such methods to explore variations in health service use (primarily cardiovascular and mental health) relative to underlying need. We have also long argued the case for using such estimates to sense-test the utilisation-based approach to setting health care capitations. Through this work, resource allocation has become an important research focus and, with Alex Gibson, impact case studies on the formula funding of public services were rates 4* in REFs 2014 and 2021. I sit on the Advisory Committee for Resource Allocation, the independent body that advises NHS England on the distribution of more than £160 billion NHS funding. Alex and I have also carried out research on funding allocations for local government, adult social care, children’s services, education and policing.

Other research interests include digital health, with a particular emphasis on the barriers and enablers to embedding innovation in the NHS (which related to a range of infrastructural, evidential and cultural challenges) and a concern with levelling up coastal communities, a focus of our current South West Coastal Local Innovation Policy Partnership. I probably come across as a bit of a dilettante. However, I enjoy the breadth of my research interests and I do hope that this has given me good knowledge (complex, layered and longstanding) of the health and social care systems (in the UK and further afield) as well as an ability to identify, nurture and champion research across very different health-related disciplines.

I have been an applicant on over £30 million of funded research projects, the author of over 200 publications (excluding conference presentations) and am a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences

Supervised Research Degrees

P. Evans: Urban Mosquitoes and Measures for their Control in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Awarded 1995; ESRC funded.

P. Vong-Ek. Factors Affecting the Incidence and Duration of Breastfeeding in Thailand: Implications for Health Promotion. Awarded 2000. WHO funded. 

S. Burley. Changing Childbirth: the Role of Antenatal Services. Awarded 2004. University Scholarship, University of Plymouth. 

S. Richardson.The Challenge of Interagency Information Sharing. A Systemic Analysis of Two Sure Start Children's Centres. Awarded 2007, ESRC funded

E. Williams. Non-Governmental Organizations and HIV/AIDS in Kolkata, India: A Discursive Analysis of Policy and Programming. Awarded 2009. ESRC funded.


Health policy; social justice; international social policy; sustainability; and globalisation and health.