The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is joining forces with the Royal College of Nursing to set up a new policy centre for nursing research.
Nick Black, reader in public health medicine at the school, said nursing research had been very neglected. The research agenda tended to be dominated by doctors, and is hampered by the lack of an experienced body of nursing researchers.
Research on the outcome of surgery, for example, would look at surgical procedures, which operation was done, and what drugs were given, but the most important factor might be the post-operative nursing care, Dr Black said.
"In terms of improving the health services, this may be where the greatest progress could be made."
There are 400,000 nurses in the National Health Service, and although they have relatively low salaries, 3 per cent of the country's gross national product goes on nursing, Dr Black said.
The policy centre, which has five years' core funding from the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, aims to establish a co-ordinated strategy for nursing research, and to help build up a group of high profile researchers. Dr Black stressed that researchers did not exclusively have to be nurses, but warned that input from nurses was essential to ensure that work was relevant. The link with the RCN meant that the centre combined the academic and the professional. Its findings would not be confined to academic journals but had a chance of influencing health care policy.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The RCN is determined to put nursing research where it rightly belongs - at the very heart of developments in our health service. The resources of the RCN and the LSHTM will give the centre for policy in nursing research the authority and support to guarantee its success."
The LSHTM is not a major centre for nursing research, but Dr Black said this was an advantage, since it was not seen as having a private agenda, or as a rival to existing research units.