• In 2020 the Health Foundation is establishing the REAL Centre (Research and Economic Analysis for the Long term) to provide new evidence and analysis that will help health and social care policymakers consider the long-term implications of their funding, design and delivery decisions.

  • The REAL Centre will become a centre of expertise for independent, objective and impartial evidence, analysis and methods relating to long term issues about the health and care system.

  • The REAL Centre is an in-house team of economists and analysts at the Health Foundation, supported by commissioned work and academic research. Calls to undertake academic research will be launched in 2020.

The Health Foundation is establishing the REAL Centre to bring high quality, robust and trusted evidence and analysis to inform decisions of strategic, long-term importance to the health and social care system.

What does the REAL Centre aim to do?

The REAL Centre will play a key role in making health and care services more sustainable – one of the Health Foundation’s strategic priorities.

It aims to ensure that:

  • decisions about the funding, design and delivery of the health and social care system are informed by the best available analysis and evidence, and with consideration of the costs and benefits over the long term

  • public debate about the future of the health and social care system is grounded in facts and evidence.


The REAL Challenge: Beyond crystal balls and COVID-19


Catch up on the inaugural REAL Challenge Lecture by Sir Andrew Dilnot in which he outlined how...

REAL Centre

A sustainable health and care system depends on high-quality strategic decision-making – for example, about levels of funding, investment in the workforce, policies and service models, outcome and service ambitions – underpinned by evidence about supply and demand. There is widespread recognition that a culture of short-termism means these decisions do not always properly take account of the future environment and challenges, for example, the changing prevalence and patterns of ill health.  Even when they do, decisions may not have regard for long-term consequences.  Sometimes strategies set out ambitions for improvement of services and outcomes without considering what is needed to deliver them.   

The REAL Centre will help to address this by providing high-quality, impartial, independent analysis to inform strategic decisions in the health and social care sector. It will provide a source of evidence, analysis and methods relating to long-term issues – for example about future levels of demand for health services. Modelling will be a core part of what the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre does – helping improve understanding of the underlying drivers of need, of the future workforce and the impact of innovation and new technology in service delivery.

In summer 2022, as our first major output, we will publish an analysis of the last twenty years of English health service activity data, understanding trends and drivers, and how the NHS has responded during periods in which funding has not kept pace with need. 

How will the REAL Centre work?

The REAL Centre will be overseen by an oversight board, chaired by Sir Andrew Dilnot, who will provide advice, challenge and assurance that it is operating in line with its principles of impartiality, objectivity, openness and transparency.

The REAL Centre will consist of: 

  • A core team at the Health Foundation, holding significant expertise in economics, analysis and research, including experience in understanding and analysing the structure, funding and workforce arrangements for UK health and social care systems and use of health and care datasets. The team will work closely with others at the Health Foundation and draw on wider expertise in related areas, such as the social determinants of health.   
  • External commissions to undertake discrete pieces of research, analysis and modelling. For example, we are already working with a partner on the development of a model of nursing supply. 
  • Funding for long-term programmes of academic research. We have £9m of funding for 2020-2025 to establish a network of academic partners looking at questions relating to broad, potentially multi-disciplinary, research programmes. We will be inviting applications to be part of the network in 2020. 
  • A competitive fund to be awarded every 2 years to innovative research projects outside the research programme above. 

Who will be part of the REAL Centre?

The Director of the REAL Centre is Anita Charlesworth, with key staff including Charles Tallack, Elaine Kelly, Omar Idriss, Ruth McConkey, Ben Gershlick and Toby Watt.

Oversight board members

Name Current role/s
Sir Andrew Dilnot (chair) Warden, Nuffield College Oxford 
Chair, Geospatial Commission
Professor James Buchan Professor, Queen Margaret University
Professor Michael Chernew Professor, Harvard Medical School   
Dr Jennifer Dixon Chief Executive, Health Foundation
Raj Jain Chief Executive, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust
Branwen Jeffreys Governor, Health Foundation  
Education Editor, BBC 
Professor Ashwin Kumar Professor of social policy, Manchester Metropolitan University
Gabrielle Mathews Youth Expert Advisor, NHS England
Medical student, Imperial College London
Mark Pearson Deputy Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD

Get in touch

If you have any questions about the REAL Centre please get in touch at REALcentre@health.org.uk


REAL Centre


The Health Foundation’s REAL Centre is here to support better long-term decision making in health...

REAL Centre

Further reading


A new frontier

24 September 2018

Anita Charlesworth blogs about the establishment of a new centre to provide independent projections,...


We can shape the future

6 October 2020

Dr Jennifer Dixon explores how the REAL Centre will help to identify what future health and care...

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