How we regulate health and social care research

Last updated on 19 Mar 2018

We are one of a number of organisations that work together in the UK to regulate and approve different aspects of health and social care research.

Most of our functions apply to research undertaken in England but we also work closely with the other countries in the UK to provide a UK-wide system.

What is health and social care research?

Health and social care research aims to find out new knowledge that could lead to changes to health treatments, policies or care. Without health and social care research, clinicians (doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, and other health professionals) would continue to carry out their work the same way without knowing if a new treatment or approach would be more effective for the person they are supporting or treating.

How is health and social care research funded?

Research can be funded through the NHS itself (commonly through the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) which is the research arm of the NHS), commercial organisations (for example, drug companies), universities, research councils, health organisations and charities.

How does research get approved?

Before a research study can start; it needs to be approved first by the relevant bodies and health regulatory organisations.

Research Ethics Committees  (REC) are independent groups of people who review certain types of research to assess whether studies are ethical. The Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG) provides advice on specific projects that will be using confidential medical information.

Our staff also assesses research in the NHS to make sure that studies comply with relevant legislation and guidelines (such as Clinical Trials Regulations, the Human Tissue Act and the Data Protection Act).

There are other specialist approvals provided by other organisations for some types of research.

Where is research carried out and by whom?

With all the relevant approvals in place, health and social care research is carried out in a number of locations including NHS hospitals, doctors/GP surgeries, dentists, care homes or residential care services with patients and service users. Some health research testing new medicines involves healthy volunteers and takes place in universities or in commercial research centres. In health and social care research, these are called the research sites.

There will be someone responsible for the overall research study called a chief investigator. Usually, this is someone who works directly with patients such as a doctor, dentist, nurse, social worker or a university researcher. The principal investigator is the person responsible for the conduct and day to day running of a study at each research site and will lead a team to carry out the research.

What is public involvement in research?

Patients, carers, service users and members of the public may undertake an advisory role working with a research team to offer valuable insight on their health condition or experiences to help with the design and set up of a research study. When patients and the public undertake this type of role or activity, it is called public involvement in research. Find out more about how we involve the public in our work, and the benefits to involving the public in research.

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