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Ethics and governance

Complying with governance procedures and undergoing ethical review are essential steps in ensuring the integrity and quality of a research project. 

Research governance sets out the rules, regulations and standards of good practice that exist to ensure the quality of a given piece of research.

File 197679Research ethics address the principles underpinning a project such that:

  • the safety, dignity and well-being of research participants, researchers and other parties is guaranteed
  • research undertaken has the greatest potential benefit for the greatest number of people, the wider science community and society as a whole

Remember that if you undertake research in health and social care, independent ethical review is a legal requirement. But before you start the process however, make sure your research is actually research.

Clinical audit and service evaluation

It can sometimes be difficult to decide whether you are undertaking research, clinical audit or service evaluation. Projects undertaken within the NHS that are not classified as research, such as clinical audit or service evaluation, will not require ethical review. To identify whether your project is classified as research please refer to the HRA Decision Tool.

Please note however, that non-research projects may require some other forms of approval from the organisation(s) undertaking or hosting the project, depending on local arrangements. You should contact the clinical governance officer of the organisation to check what other review arrangements maybe required. See the HRA website for further information and guidance:

Research governance frameworks

Each institution must ensure that any research undertaken by its staff, with its patients or on its premises meets relevant governance standards. Each UK country has a separate framework with which to do this:

Most organisations will have a process in place through which permission must be sought in order to undertake research within that organisation. For NHS England however, the Health Research Authority has an approval system that replaces the need for local organisational checks. HRA approval brings together governance and legal compliance assessment in one process.

For studies where your lead R&D office is in England, you need to prepare your application for approval within the Integrated Research Application System(IRAS). For governance issues relating to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, please see country specific information on the HRA website.

Ethical review

Submitting a research project for ethical review ensures its quality and rigour. Who carries out the review is determined by the nature of the project and its participants. As a general rule:

File 197681

  • University employee/university-based research: apply to the university's own research ethics committee
  • NHS health and social care services: see details on the Research Ethics Service (RES) below
  • Outside the statutory sector: always check relevant governance arrangements.

It may be necessary to work collaboratively with a university and/or the NHS for certain smaller organisations.

Research Ethics Service (RES)

The RES is a core function of the HRA and is committed to enabling and supporting ethical research within the NHS. Its ethics review service comprises more than 80 separate committees. Apart from limited specific situations, only one committee needs to review a project for the whole of the UK.

Some projects taking place outside the NHS require a site-specific assessment (SSA). The HRA website also has specific advice for:

Recruiting members for research

Many areas of research benefit from the inclusion of CSP members either as participants, collaborators or to give expert opinion.

Ethical considerations

Consider the following when recruiting for a research project within the profession:

  • make sure your project undergoes ethical review - where needed - before you start recruiting
  • you do not need ethical approval in order to contact CSP members for an expert opinion, for example, in planning your research project
  • if you are inviting CSP members to be collaborators in your research, they should be named in any ethics review application
  • you need to plan exactly how you will recruit participants, and include this in your application: include recruitment wording and the consent form
  • information about your study should always indicate whether you have completed an ethical review, from who, and its review number
  • if you have not undergone review, you need to explain why it's not required.

Sample considerations

You should consider how many participants you need and your inclusion and exclusion criteria. This will help determine the most effective ways of recruiting participants. CSP members receive a large number of requests to take part in research, so you may find the following tips helpful:

  • target those to whom the research is relevant to get a better response rate
  • keep information clear and brief, and indicate what commitment is involved
  • clearly articulate the benefits members will gain by participating
  • email and websites can help you reach a larger number of people but a more personal approach - by visiting departments and clinics, attending meetings or CPD events - may lead to better commitment

CSP resources and how they can be used

Under data protection legislation the society cannot provide contact details of its members, despite receiving frequent requests for samples. However, the society can facilitate involvement of its members in research through:

  • interactiveCSP, the online learning and networking resource for members. You can post information about research projects on the news section of a relevant network. Please note the terms of service for using iCSP in relation to advertising and promoting research though, especially section 3, term 15.5.
  • National and regional networks: the society has networks within England and also for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Approaching these networks is an effective way of contacting members in a specific location.
  • Professional networks: the 40 or so professional networks recognised by the society have specific clinical and professional interests. Many will facilitate involving their own members in research. Contact them directly on how best to do this.
  • The Researchers' Directory, hosted on this website, can be used to find physiotherapy researchers for collaborative purposes, or for expert opinion.
  • The Council for Allied Health Professions Research (CAHPR) is a network open to anyone interested in research related to the allied health professions with regional hubs across the UK.

Find out more

The UK Research Integrity Office(UKRIO) is an independent body providing expert advice and guidance on the conduct of research. They publish a code of practice for research and have many other useful resources.

The NHS Research and Development Forum (R&D Forum) is a not-for-profit membership organisation that aims to support the NHS research community. Their website has a wide variety of relevant resources.

Please note that the Social Care Research Ethics Committee and its secretariat transferred to the HRA on 1 April 2015.


More from the CSP

Last reviewed

19 January 2017
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