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Think Ethics - my highlight of the year - a blog by Mark Sidaway, HRA policy manager

Last updated on 20 Dec 2022

In the same way that January gives us chance to make resolutions, December is a good time to reflect on how things have gone over the past year. For me, one of the highlights was joining the Think Ethics programme on secondment, as a policy manager, to lead work on raising awareness of research ethics and working closely with Research Ethics Committees (REC) and the Health Research Authority (HRA) staff to discuss how we improve the research ethics process. I'm very privileged to be in this role.

Think Ethics

I joined the HRA three years ago as an Approvals Specialist. A huge amount has happened since then and being able to directly contribute to how we improve the process and raise awareness was an exciting opportunity I didn't want to miss.

My previous role involved working with REC members at regional development days, where they receive training to support them with their role. During one of these sessions I bumped into a healthcare professional who I worked with on a prostate cancer trial in 1999 and our chance meeting made me realise how fortunate I've been to work in health research for more than 20 years.

During my career I've managed six health projects and trials in universities, the NHS and the private sectors as well as working in research management for the National Institute for Health and Care Research and research and development departments at NHS Trusts.

My experience has given me empathy and understanding of the frustrations from researchers and sponsors with the research ethics process. I'm genuinely able to say ‘I've been in your situation’.  But I also know how important the regulatory process is and that things have to be done the right way, as well as efficiently and that we have to be transparent and public facing.

Given my experience, I’m in a good position to support the Think Ethics programme, which aims to make the research ethics approval process more innovative and streamlined, while earning the public’s trust.

However, I’m aware that while I’m a research ethics enthusiast, this isn’t the case for the vast majority of people and our public dialogue exercise showed that there is limited public awareness of research ethics and the work of the HRA.

But the good news is that the exercise also showed that the public were interested in and reassured by research ethics and wanted to know more and be more involved.

In response to the public dialogue, I’m leading work to help inform the public on what research ethics is, who we are and how we do it. And 'we' means the public too.

To demystify research ethics over next couple of months we will be sharing stories from REC chairs, REC lay members, patients and researchers - the people at the heart of the process.  I’m very excited about this and hopefully by sharing these stories it will help to make research ethics easier to understand.

Next year is an exciting time for the Think Ethics programme. As it comes to an end and becomes business as usual, we will begin work to implement the ideas we have developed so far to improve the research ethics approval process.

But my hope is that its legacy will be better public awareness of research ethics and I will be working hard to make that happen.  It will be one of my New Year's Resolutions.

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