How Scotland’s NMAHP-RU became a world leading research centre.

By Professor Suzanne Hagen, Innovation in NMAHP Interventions Programme Director at NMAHP Research Unit.


Scotland continues to face significant challenges in poor population health due to persistent health inequalities and intergenerational deprivation. Our health and social care systems need to adapt and develop in order to respond to these challenges. Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals are the main providers of health care and are increasingly working in social care settings. There are more than five times the number of NMAHPs than there are doctors working in the NHS in Scotland: approximately 71,000 compared to 12,500.

This means that NMAHPs play a pivotal role in the delivery of key health outcomes and patient care experiences in Scotland. They work at the coalface of delivery in unscheduled, emergency, primary, community and acute care settings. They are often the early warning system for detecting health and social care decline in patients and their families or carers. It is essential that the therapeutic and caring interventions delivered by NMAHPs are evidence-based, personalised, safe, effective, efficient, and equitable. The Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit (the NMAHP Research Unit) is the only Unit (in Scotland and the UK) with a unique remit to deliver this evidence base.


The NMAHP Research Unit is core funded by The Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government’s Health and Social Care Directorate to conduct high quality applied research that enables nurses, midwives and allied health professionals to make a difference to the lives of those living in Scotland and beyond. We work with NHS staff and policy makers to make sure our research will impact on health and social care delivery. We understand the challenges faced by NHS staff in their day to day roles and in undertaking NMAHP focused research.

The NMAHP Research Unit was founded in 1994 (originally known as the Nursing Research Initiative for Scotland) and is now recognised as an internationally renowned and innovative centre of excellence for NMAHP Health and Social Care research. It provides a highly skilled and supportive multidisciplinary environment to grow research capacity & capability including the research leaders of tomorrow. The Unit is co-hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Stirling and currently employs around 50 staff and supports approximately 30 doctorate students. We collaborate with almost every Higher Education Institution and Health Board in Scotland as well as a wide range of UK and international organisations for research, policy, advocacy and practice.


The Unit is recognised as world leading and our researchers have international reputations in the fields of: 

  • Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Pelvic Health
  • Maternal and Child Health 
  • Health Behaviour Change 
  • Long Term Conditions (including mental health)
  • Innovations in Healthcare Services, Systems and Roles (including pre-hospital emergency care)

The above clinical workstreams cross-cut our 3 substantive programmes of research:

  • Innovation in NMAHP Interventions: “providing evidence of effectiveness to inform practice”
  • Transforming Care Delivery: “people and their life and healthcare journeys”
  • Maximising Data Usage in NMAHP Research: “reducing research waste and enhancing efficiency”

We are engaged in around 50 projects at any one time from small scale rapid evidence synthesis for policy makers through to large scale multi-site trials running over several years. In recent years we have attracted nearly £40million worth of competitive research funding from national and international funding bodies. The research funding we obtain is used to address health priorities and patient care. The Unit publishes around 60 peer-reviewed publications per year in high impact and relevant clinical and methodological journals including The Lancet, Journal of Advanced Nursing, International Journal of Nursing Studies and The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 


The following examples demonstrate some of the Unit’s recognised achievements:

  • A leading UK centre for research in maternal and child health and well-being, including maternal mental health.  The Unit leads the Scottish Midwifery Research Collaboration involving five Higher Education Institutions, established in 2012, funded by the Chief Nurse’s Office with the aim of supporting senior midwifery research capacity and capability in Scotland.  The group brings together senior midwife researchers in Scotland to work together to undertake research, write papers and build capacity for midwifery research.
  • An international lead for post-Stroke and Aphasia research: our RELEASE project involves 23 countries; we received the Robin Tavistock Award, an international honour for outstanding contribution to the world of aphasia (2016) and Honorary Life Membership of the Stroke Society of Australasia; and Stroke outputs have been referenced in UK, Irish, Australian, Norwegian, Canadian, New Zealand and Dutch clinical guidelines.
  • The leading UK centre for Cochrane Reviews in the field of Stroke (authoring the top 3 of their top 10 most accessed reviews in Stroke). Membership of the Editorial Board - Cochrane Collaboration Stroke Review Group (with 2 staff members as Associate Editors), the Cochrane Collaboration Wounds Review Group and the Cochrane Collaboration Incontinence Review Group.
  • Leading the majority of pre-hospital emergency care research in Scotland as part of a key strategic partnership with the Scottish Ambulance Service; and a major partner in UK collaborative research.  The Scottish Ambulance Service has invested in a collaboration with the Unit through seconding a Clinical Research Paramedic who achieved a PhD in 2015, along with other research paramedics, seconded for shorter periods during the course of the collaboration.
  • One of the leading centres internationally for research into non-surgical treatment of urological and pelvic floor problems in women: we received the Dorothy Mandelstam Award 2011 from the Association for Continence Advice for INSPIRE. The award acknowledges a continence service development that improves the quality of patient care. 
  • One of the leading centre’s internationally in NMAHP trials, having the unique methodological skills required for the complexity of NMAHP multi centre trials to test the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of NMAHP interventions and translate this research into NMAHP practice.
  • Gaining a reputation in developing innovative tech based solutions to effect behaviour change in key areas for health such as smoking cessation in pregnancy, tackling obesity, compliance with physiotherapy in cystic fibrosis and asthma management.
  • Known for developing and supporting current and future NMAHP research leaders (including a strong ‘professoriate’) to lead and drive research developments in priority areas for nursing, healthcare and economic growth in Scotland.  The Unit has worked extremely closely with NHS Education Scotland in the area of clinical academic careers and in the production of evidence syntheses for good practice and workforce development.
  • At the forefront of Public and Patient Involvement in all aspects of our work. The Unit’s Research Partnership Group is a group of people with an interest in health and social care research, with experience of health and social care, either as patients, carers, family members or health professionals.  The group works in partnership with the Unit to ensure that our work is relevant and useful to all our stakeholders.

Through our research we will continue to make a difference to the work of NMAHPs, the care experiences and outcomes for patients, and the healthy lives of those living in Scotland and beyond.

With thanks to Professor Suzanne Hagen, Professor Margaret Maxwell, Professor Helen Cheyne and everyone at the NMAHP-RU.

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