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Think Ethics is putting people and ethics at the heart of health and social care research. The Health Research Authority (HRA), working with our partners in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, wants to make ethics review more innovative and efficient, whilst retaining public trust.

Our ambition is:

  • 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
  • a rewarding experience for diverse, skilled and committed Research Ethics Committee (REC) members
  • a streamlined and user-friendly service, attracting world-leading health research in the UK

Why change?

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 make are widely supported and will work in practice.

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.

What’s next?

We are now focussing on how research ethics review is carried out – who does it and how it is done. 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.

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