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Blog: The only way is ethics (Down Under edition)

Last updated on 30 Nov 2022

Charlotte Allen, Quality and Performance Manager at the Health Research Authority (HRA), was recently asked to present at the National HREC Conference 2022 in Australia to share best practice from the UK on ethics. She reflected on her experience and the things we can learn from practice around the world.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about the work of the Health Research Authority (HRA) and the role of our Research Ethics Committees (RECs) at the National HREC Conference 2022 in Queensland, Australia - although sadly this was by Zoom rather than jet setting!

The theme of the conference this year was ‘Ethics in Contemporary Society – A global perspective’ and the organisers were really keen to include a speaker from the UK.

The request for a speaker was initially focussed around wanting to find out about quality assurance in the research ethics service and I worked with Jane Martin, Quality Assurance Manager to prepare the slides (thank you Jane!).

I was given a very broad brief as the organisers wanted me to talk about all of the great work we have done in the UK to streamline the ethics review process – in just 30 minutes!

I covered a number of areas in my presentation, including:

  • structure and remit of the UK Research Ethics Service and role of the Health Research Authority
  • REC Membership and staff support for RECs
  • process for ethics review in the UK
  • Quality Assurance Processes
  • challenges for research ethics review in the UK.

I also spoke about our expedited review process where the HRA reviewed urgent public health studies in 24 to 48 hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I then participated in a panel session with the other speakers to answer questions from the audience.

The attendees were particularly interested to hear about how we provide expert advice to RECs if the committee does not have a particular expertise, what we do if we receive poor quality applications, and how our REC members are accountable for their decisions when in the UK, we don’t pay them.

It felt very surreal participating in a conference at 4am in the morning but now I have (just about) recovered from the early start.

The attendees couldn’t believe that our median review timelines for CTIMPs was only 33 days and commented that this was something they would love to achieve in Australia. I was surprised and pleased to hear this as Australia is often cited as a country where pharmaceutical companies are increasingly placing their trials instead of running the trial in the UK.

I was asked about whether RECs gave enough consideration to how people with relevant lived experience had contributed to the design and preparation of the study which was an opportunity for me to mention some of the guidance we have provided to RECs about patient and public involvement.

RECs in Australia encounter similar issues to us when considering the public involvement (which is referred to as community engagement in Australia) and it was particularly interesting to hear about the importance of co-designing research studies with Aboriginal communities in Australia.

There were lots of congratulatory comments on the work we have done to improve and streamline the ethics review process in the UK.

I felt very proud to be part of the HRA!

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen

Quality and Performance Manager
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