Think Ethics is putting people and ethics at the heart of health and social care research. Through exploring and developing innovative approaches to how we work, the Health Research Authority (HRA), working with our partners in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, wants to make ethics review even more innovative and efficient, whilst retaining public trust.
Our ambition is:
- increasing and maintain public awareness of, and interest in good quality, ethical research
- fast, proportionate ethics review focused on key ethical issues in a consistent way
- clear and concise study information designed with and for patients and study participants, against evidence-based standards
- a rewarding experience for diverse, skilled and committed Research Ethics Committee (REC) members
- fast, proportionate ethics review focused on key ethical issues in a coherent way
- a streamlined and user-friendly service, attracting world-leading health research in the UK.
Research ethics review plays an important role in making health and social care research ethical and people centred. The UK Research Ethics Service, run by the HRA and our partners in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has a strong reputation globally. It played a vital role in the research response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reviewing research to the same high standards in a fraction of the time.
That experience told us that we can build on those strong foundations to develop a service which is the best in the world.
How are we working?
Since Think Ethics launched in September 2021, we've been talking to a range of interested people about how ethics review could change to make sure that people and ethics really are at the heart of research. We are working with a group of advisors with a range of lived and professional experience of health and social care research, to make sure that the changes we recommend make are widely supported and will work in practice. Dedicated project staff are working with these advisors to progress the components of Think Ethics.
What have we done so far?
Earlier this year we asked the public what matters to them about ethics review. The findings of that work have fed into our plans for change, alongside suggestions from ethics committee members, research participants and researchers.
We have already made some changes to how ethics committees work and to improve the information that people taking part in research studies receive:
- Research Ethics Committees across the UK now review research through online meetings, this has helped a wider group of people to become committee members and means more people from research teams can attend meetings.
- we have decided that in future researchers will be required to involve people with lived experience of a condition or disease in developing information for study participants. This forms part of a new policy to make sure that information for study participants is accessible and understandable. The plan to implement this policy, supporting the changes that researchers may need to make will be shared as part of the wider project in Think Ethics relating to Information and Consent to take part in research
- Research Ethics Committees across the UK now review research through online meetings, this has helped a wider group of people to become committee members and means more people from research teams can attend meetings to answer questions about their study’s ethics issues and involvement of the public
- building on our experience in turning round applications for COVID 19 related research very quickly, we now offer a Fast Track service for a wider range of studies.
We are now focussing on how research ethics review is carried out – who does it and how it is done. Our intention here is twofold:
To engage the public in research ethics, and increase their involvement in discussion of ethics in research. Working with public contributors, we will open discussions on ethics in research more widely than the important discussions that go on within RECs. We will also learn from public views on how RECs work, by inviting and supporting observers from the public at REC meetings
Our aim is to make sure that each research study gets the right level of scrutiny, according to the nature of the research and the ethical issues it raises. By refining ethics review to be more proportionate, we aim to shorten the review timeline and improve the experience for researchers and ethics committee members. We want ethically sound research to be set up quickly and efficiently for the benefit of NHS patients and the public.