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The Health Services Research Unit (HSRU) was established in 1991 as a partnership between the Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care in the University of Oxford and the Oxford Regional Health Authority, on funding provided by the Regional Health Authority. Today, funding comes from a variety of sources including the Department of Health, the National Institute for Health Research and several charities and private organisations. In 2013 the HSRU became part of the newly constituted Nuffield Department of Population Health.

The unit was originally based in the Harkness Building of the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, opposite to the main University Department. It moved within the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1994 and then in 1997 to its present location at the Old Road Campus of the University Medical School in Headington, Oxford.