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Social care research

Last updated on 15 Jul 2022

When the HRA became a Non Departmental Public Body on 1 January 2015, we took formal responsibility for research in adult social care. 

The Social Care Research Ethics Committee (REC), previously hosted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, transferred to the HRA on 1 April 2015. 

The number of RECs able to review social care research in England has been expanded from one to three. 

Ethical review of Social Care Research 

The RECs flagged to review Social Care research reviews adult social care research study proposals, intergenerational studies involving adults and children or families and some proposals for social science studies situated in the NHS. 

It generally expects to review the following types of study: 

  • social care studies funded by Department of Health;
  • research commissioned directly through the Policy Research Programme;
  • NHS Digital studies (i.e. those to be designed by IC for implementation by councils with adult social services responsibilities, who do not then individually need to seek additional review);
  • studies commissioned by or through National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Social Care Research;
  • social care studies funded (in rare cases) through NIHR;
  • social care research that involves people lacking capacity in England and Wales and requires approval under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – the Social Care REC is recognised by the Secretary of State as an Appropriate Body for this purpose;
  • studies taking place in NHS settings with patients or staff where the approach to data collection uses social science methods, provided that the research involves no change in treatment or clinical practice;
  • intergenerational studies in social care where both adults and children, or families, are research participants; and
  • research which involves changes in participants’ care or even the withdrawal of some aspect of their care. 

Applications to a social care flagged REC are expected to fall into one of the IRAS categories below; 

  • basic science study involving procedures with human participants;
  • study administering questionnaires/interviews for quantitative analysis, or using mixed;
  • quantitative/qualitative methodology; 
  • study involving qualitative methods only; 
  • study limited to working with data (specific project only); and 
  • research database. 


Social care research does not require review by the a social care flagged REC if it is reviewed by another committee operating in accordance with the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC’s) framework for research ethics, unless the categories above apply or the research involves NHS patients, people who use services or people who lack capacity as research participants. 

Other student research within the field of social care should ordinarily be reviewed by a university REC (UREC). If a UREC review is not available to a student, they can contact the manager for advice. 

Research governance framework: Resource pack for social care (2nd Edition – April 2010) 

The purpose of the research governance resource pack is to assist councils with social services responsibilities to fulfil their role in ensuring that research involving their clients or staff is carried out in an ethical and sound way. 

The pack sets out clearly how to establish transparent systems to approve, record and monitor research activity. It explains why research governance is necessary and what it means in practice. 

It includes a section on frequently asked questions and gives examples of how different councils have set up research governance systems. It summarises the relevant legislation and provides some practical tools for reviewing research proposals. 

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