Research Ethics Committee work recognised in New Year’s Honours

Last updated on 31 Dec 2016

Three research ethicists with close links to the Health Research Authority have been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for a combined total of nearly 45 years’ service to Research Ethics Committees.

Professor Andrew George, deputy vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, has been awarded an MBE for services to research participants and ethical governance of clinical research. Stephanie Ellis, chair of London – Hampstead research ethics committee and Peter Heasman, professor of periodontology at the University of Newcastle, are recipients of the British Empire Medal for services to the research ethics service, and services to providing ethical review and support to researchers respectively.

NHS Research Ethics Committees safeguard the rights, safety, dignity and well-being of research participants. They review applications for research and give an opinion about the proposed participant involvement and whether the research is ethical. They consist of up to 15 members with a broad mix of medical, scientific and lay experience.

There are currently over 80 NHS research ethics committees across the UK. Each year they review around 6,000 research applications

Chair of the Health Research Authority, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, said

“’I am delighted that the outstanding contributions that Andrew, Stephanie and Peter have made to UK research have been recognised.

They have been inspirational leaders of their own committees and supported the wider research ethics community with their wise counsel over many years. They have gone well beyond what could reasonably be expected of them and their honours are very well deserved.”

Professor Andrew George was a member of the Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea and Acton Hospitals Research Ethics Committee from 1998 – 2010, a committee which he also chaired for 10 years. He currently chairs the National Research Ethics Advisors’ Panel (NREAP), a national panel that helps research ethics committees deliver robust, consistent and fair decisions, and advises the HRA on ethical issues. Commenting on his award, he said

“I am pleased and delighted to have received this honour, not least for the recognition this brings for the many volunteers that support the research ethics system across the country by serving on research ethics committees.

“Their dedication and hard work – which is not often recognised or known about – is key to protecting research subjects while ensuring that good quality, ethical research can take place. This award is as much for them as it is for me personally.”

‘’I have really enjoyed my time as part of the research ethics service, as a member and chair of a REC and as Chair of NREAP. I have made many friends through the REC system, and have learned a lot from the different backgrounds and approaches that people bring to knotty and complex problems. I have enjoyed the intellectual and ethical challenges that are raised in ethical review, and have also taken pride in seeing ethical research that we have facilitated make a difference to patients.

Stephanie Ellis became chair of London – Hampstead REC in 2013. Prior to this she chaired the Camden and Islington REC for 10 years. Speaking on her award, she said:

“I was surprised and touched to receive this honour. But whilst I am delighted to get the medal I know that such honours are not just for the individual – they recognise the work of the ethics service and of the committees and I am delighted that RECs, and the hard work of the members, has been recognised.”

Professor Heasman was appointed to the Newcastle and North Tyneside Research Ethics Committee in 1997. He was chair from 2000 until 2008. He also chaired the Northern and Yorkshire committee until his retirement in 2016. His involvement in research ethics has enabled him to provide advice to local University colleagues and NHS-based researchers both informally and formally through researcher training days, to which he also contributed on a national basis. He also chaired the UK Medical Devices Collaboration Group, an alliance which delivers improvements to the governance of safe medical device research.

Professor Heasman said:

“To say that this honour was a surprise is something of an understatement. It is an immense honour to receive such recognition. But the real appreciation goes to all those colleagues that I have worked with so closely over the last 20 years: REC members and managers, colleagues, trainers and all those at the HRA. It really has been an absolute privilege.

“The ethics service (and indeed all clinical research in the UK) would not prevail without those who volunteer their ‘ethics’ time in abundance. None of us can call it our ‘day job’ yet we become involved possibly out of curiosity but also because we want to contribute to the safety of UK research, and upholding the dignity and rights of research participants. We do this neither for reward nor recognition but when something like this comes along it makes one feel incredibly proud.”

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