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Professor Marian Knight has been appointed as the new Director of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) programme. She takes over the role from Professor Sue Ziebland (University of Oxford) and will serve a five-year term until April 2027.

RfPB is a national programme that aims to fund research that can increase the effectiveness of NHS and care services, provide value for money, and benefit patients. The appointment, therefore, is a fitting reflection of Professor Knight’s commitment to generating robust national evidence to inform practical improvements in patient care and service planning.

Since 2012, Professor Knight has been a Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), part of Oxford Population Health. Her research focuses on using national observational studies to address clinical questions concerning rare and severe complications of pregnancy and early life. This includes leading the MBRRACE-UK national confidential enquiries into maternal morbidity and mortality, the findings from which have directly influenced actions to reduce disparities in pregnancy outcomes for women and babies.

In February 2012, Professor Knight was awarded one of the first NIHR Research Professorships to develop her work relating to maternal morbidity and care of infants requiring early surgery. Since then, she has also served as the Chair of NIHR RfPB Regional Advisory South East and Central Committee, NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research subcommittee, and the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme Commissioning Committee. She is also an Honorary Consultant in Public Health with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Knight rapidly aligned her research to address urgent questions surrounding COVID-19 and pregnant women. This work generated crucial evidence, including that women from BAME communities were disproportionately over represented among pregnant women hospitalised with COVID-19; the importance of maintaining wider maternal support services, including mental health care; and the real-world effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women. These timely findings were covered widely in the media, and have informed clinical guidelines for maternal care during the pandemic. 

As Director, Professor Knight will work with the Chairs from across the eight RfPB Regional Advisory Panels to assess and fund research applications. Over 14 years, RfPB has funded over 1000 projects with budgets from £50,000 to £350,000, besides providing early-career funding support to many successful researchers.

RfPB funding has supported various projects conducted through the NPEU. These include:

Professor Knight said: ‘I am very much looking forward to the challenge of this new role, working with professionals across the breadth of the health and social care systems to find innovative ways to improve the lives of patients and service users. My own work has highlighted the need for research throughout the wider health and care systems to address disparities in women’s health, a key priority area for NIHR, and I am excited to take the RfPB programme forward for its next five years.’