Irene Higginson

Irene Higginson


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Personal profile

Research interests

Research interests and publications are in the following areas:

  • quality of life and outcome measurements
  • evaluation of palliative care especially of new services and interventions
  • epidemiology
  • clinical audit
  • effectiveness
  • psychosocial factors and care
  • symptom assessment
  • cachexia/anorexia
  • elderly care.

Improving services for patients and families by researching ways to measure and improve services. A group of studies supported by NHS R/D and other funders are testing more humane, dignified and cost effective measures and models of palliative care through the development and evaluation of services, systematic literature reviews and measurement of treatment and patients' quality of life. Studies follow the MRC framework for the evaluation of complex interventions, and are determining the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of general palliative care, specialist palliative care, day care and carer support in cancer and (most recently) non cancer conditions. Studies are also determining the effect of culture and ethnicity on services received and sources of support. In addition to forging research into models of palliative care for cancer patients and their carers, a particular strand develops and validates measures of outcome and quality of life.

Improving the assessment and treatment of symptoms commonly experienced by terminally ill patients through focused clinical research. This strand, funded by The Cicely Saunders Foundation and other charities, is investigating more effective ways to prevent and treat difficult to control and poorly understood clusters of symptoms. We have determined the prevalence and epidemiology of neuropathic pain in cancer and diabetes, and compared treatments. We are commencing a 5 year programme to investigate, develop and test non pharmacological interventions to control breathlessness in terminal and far advanced illness for patients in the community.

Research interests (short)

Palliative care, quality of life, symptoms, epidemiology, health services research, measurement.

Biographical details

Professor Higginson is currently Professor of Palliative Care and Policy, Vice Dean (Research) of the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care and Director of the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London. The Institute is the world’s first purpose-built Institute of palliative care. Under Professor Higginson’s direction, the Cicely Saunders Institute has brought together clinical teams from diverse key areas in palliative care in a collaborative multi-professional environment for clinical services, research, and education. She has led the development and implementation of the MSc, Diploma and Certificate in Palliative Care, supervises several PhD students and is active in teaching. 

Professor Higginson also holds roles as Director of Applied Health Research at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Scientific Director of Cicely Saunders International and is an NIHR Senior Investigator (Emeritus) with extensive experience in leading and delivering national and international multidisciplinary collaboration in palliative care.

Professor Higginson leads several active research programmes including the EU-funded BETTER-B programme, which brings together a unique multi-disciplinary consortium of clinicians and outstanding scientists from respiratory, palliative, geriatric and rehabilitation fields, alongside statisticians, trialists, health economists, health service researchers and patient and consumer groups across six European countries to further international research into breathlessness and innovative collaboration into the future. In 2019, she was named by The Web of Science as a Highly Cited Researcher. The award recognises the world’s most influential researchers who have produced multiple papers ranking in the top 1% in their field by citations.

From 2014 -2018 Professor Higginson was Director of Research and Innovation at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and from 2002 to 2005 was Dean of Graduate Studies in the School of Medicine at King's College London, leading MSc and PhD development.

Before coming to King's, she was a Senior Lecturer/Consultant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Director of Research and Development at Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Health Authority.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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