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Evaluating research systems and the impact of research on health and health systems

The Health Economics Research Group (HERG) played a leading role in developing the increasing interest in assessing the ‘payback’ or wider impacts from health research. The pioneering Buxton and Hanney Payback Framework is viewed internationally as one of the major approaches to use in such assessments. That stream of research fed into various studies, some with WHO, evaluating health research systems and considering how they should best be organised to enhance the impact of their research and improve health systems.

The HERG payback framework consists of a multidimensional categorisation of benefits from research and a model of how to assess them. The stream of work began for the national Department of Health in 1993 but expanded in various ways. The multi-dimensional framework has been applied in the UK and elsewhere to assess the impacts of an increasingly wide range of health research, including that funded by medical research charities (for example, the Australian National Breast Cancer Foundation) and programmes from research councils, including from the National Institutes of Health in the USA. Some projects have focussed on developing new ways to assess specific impacts, including the high-profile Medical Research: What’s it Worth series of studies that estimated the value of UK public and charitably-funded medical research in fields including CVD, cancer and musculoskeletal disease.

In 2001 HERG was invited to work with WHO to bring the Payback Framework approach into the framework they were developing analysing National Health Research Systems. Steve Hanney later drafted the section on assessing the value of health research for the World Health Report, 2013, WHO’s major report on health research. From 2006-17 he also co-edited the WHO-founded journal, Health Research Policy and Systems. In 2017-20, Steve Haney and Subhash Pokhrel led a WHO Europe evidence synthesis on policies to strengthen health research systems. HERG’s further research system studies examined the benefits of healthcare organisations being research active, and how to reduce time lags between early research and health gains, especially during the COVID pandemic.