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Inside the Social Care Research Ethics Committee - a blog by Susan Harrison

Last updated on 29 Aug 2019

Last month the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) revealed twelve social care research projects receiving £2.5m funding, and announced an annual call for social care research proposals. To mark a decade since the foundation of the Social Care Research Ethics Committee, Susan Harrison gives us an insight into the group which ethically reviews this essential work.

There are many ways of describing adult social care.  First and foremost it’s about supporting people who have care needs to live well and safely in their communities. Adult social care services provide personal and practical support commonly to older people and people with disabilities, including mental ill-health.

Local Authorities are responsible for arranging publicly funded social care services through personal budgets including Direct Payments.  Funding is limited to those who meet eligibility criteria and have low levels of financial resources, and most social care services commissioned by Local Authorities are provided by commercial companies or not-for-profit organisations.  People who are not eligible for Local Authority arrangements organise and self-fund their own care and support.

This creates a very complex and fragmented context, with about 18,500 separate organisations providing adult social care.  The sector is large: about 1.5 million people work in social care. The Skills for Care (2019) report contains more information on the size and structure of adult social care. Nearly 900,000 people receive publicly-funded services and there are 1.8 million requests for services in 2017-18 (NHS Digital, 2018).  In the context of Local Authority cuts, the numbers of people receiving long-term support has fallen by about 2% since 2015-16, at a time of increasing demand.  

2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the Social Care Research Ethics Committee (SCREC). During the life of the Committee we’ve provided ethical review for many adult social care research studies. These include studies focussed on the needs and services for groups of people; for example, older people, people with learning disabilities or people in mental distress. We’ve also reviewed studies that are focussed on children’s services, with inter-generational themes. We regularly review studies funded through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) generally and through the NIHR’s School for Social Care Research specifically. 

Along with the other two HRA committees flagged for social care research, SCREC is looking forward to providing ethical review for the new wave of NIHR funded social care studies including those funded through the Research for Patient Benefit programme. We also welcome the work published by the Department of Health and Social Care setting out their Priorities for Adult Social Work Research.  The work was commissioned by Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker and was delivered by the James Lind Alliance.

The SCREC is a strong advocate of supporting people to shape their social care support in ways that work for them.  Involvement in research means research that is done ‘with’ or ‘by’ people who use social care support.  Not ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them. We’re right behind the HRA’s public involvement campaign and welcome the opportunity that this offers people who use social care support. The HRA will be working with Ethics Committee members over the next 12 months to develop their role and approach when assessing the ethics of involvement in research studies.

Did you know that in England there are around 110,000 care work vacancies at any one time? Members of the SCREC are committed to supporting the development of knowledge, understanding and evidence that helps social care professionals to do their work and improve outcomes for people with care and support needs.  Our hope is that by enabling good quality ethical research, we are supporting social care employers to recruit and retain workers whose values and behaviours are based in what people need and want, supported by good research insights. We also hope this contributes to a stronger evidence base for central government policies, for example in the long-awaited Green Paper for adult social care.

Susan Harrison

Susan Harrison

Vice Chair, Social Care Research Ethics Committee 

Be part of the Social Care Research Ethics Committee

The Social Care Research Ethics Committee was first established as part of the Social Care Institute for Excellence in 2009 and transferred to the HRA in 2015. The REC currently has vacancies for members who are interested in thinking about the issues from the perspective of a potential research participant and would like to develop knowledge of research ethics. HRA Research Ethics Committee members receive training in ethical review and have opportunities to debate challenging issues. 

We're particularly interested in receiving applications from people who use social care support.

Further information on Research Ethics Committees (REC), and the volunteer member role can be found here.

In the coming months we’ll be advertising opportunities to apply to join the Social Care Research Ethics Committee as a volunteer member. If you’d like us to send you more details, please email us

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