Somerset Council has been awarded £5m over five years by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to form a Health Determinants Research Collaboration’ (HDRC) – a new research partnership to improve health and reduce health inequalities across the county.

The HDRC will see Somerset Council join forces with Spark Somerset, UWE Bristol and the Institute of Health Equity at University College London to enable the Council to make better decisions to improve health in Somerset, informed by existing evidence and new research and shaped by local people.

The NIHR will provide £1 million per year for the next 5 years to support the creation of a staffed unit within the council that will work to involve communities in research, provide council staff and the public with opportunities to develop their skills, and help the council to use evidence and do research.

The funding of £55m NIHR is investing in 11 new HDRCs across the country to enable local authorities to use evidence and undertake research to improve health in their communities and tackle health inequalities.

Somerset’s HDRC, which is expected to launch in January 2024, will focus on the building blocks of good health such as housing, education and the physical environment to tackle the root causes of health inequalities and wider deprivation.  Because of this it intends to involve directorates across the Council, such as Transport, Housing, Planning and Education among others, to apply health evidence and to develop research capability.

Through the programme, the council will involve communities in applying evidence about the building blocks of health to local decisions, and in doing new research where there is not enough evidence.

Councillor Adam Dance, Lead Member for Public Health Equalities and Diversity at Somerset Council said:  

We want everyone in Somerset to live well for longer, but there are so many external factors that can influence our health. Health inequalities are unfair differences in how long someone can expect to live a healthy life owing to differences in their circumstances, from where they’re born, through to the conditions in which they grow, work and age.  These differences mean many lives are cut short, on average by over 5 years for both men and women in the poorest communities in Somerset.

This new investment is really excellent news for Somerset, as it will allow us to work directly with leading research bodies and communities to understand the range of social, environmental and economic factors that influence health in the county. This means we’ll be able to shape our services to suit our communities and ultimately give everyone a fair chance of a healthy life.

Professor Jane Powell, Director of the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing University of West of England Bristol said:

In recent years the University of the West of England, Bristol has invested in extending our provision of education and training in Somerset, becoming the first university with a physical presence in the County.  We are very excited to develop our role as a civic university further, and to work with the Council and communities to use and produce evidence that can help to address some the county’s biggest health challenges.

Katherine Nolan, Chief Executive of Spark Somerset said:

Voluntary groups form the backbone of our communities. We welcome this opportunity to support and strengthen the council’s research by sharing their valuable insight to achieve better health and wellbeing for the people of Somerset.

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

Children in rural and coastal communities face some of the biggest inequalities in opportunity and worst social mobility owing to less access to education, transport, employment and services. Addressing these social determinants of health are vital for promoting health equity. The UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) is delighted to be able to work with the Council and communities in Somerset to understand better and respond to the local root causes of health inequalities.

Group of Human Arms Raised with Speech Bubble

About this article

December 5, 2023

Rosie Bennetts

Press Release

Public Health