The benefit of going through the process is that your research plans are reviewed by experts and it ensures that you are undertaking high quality rigorous research.
There are a number of sources of support and help available to you.
Ethical approval: Key considerations
- Who do you need to get ethical approval from?
- What are the procedures and timescales of the organisation(s) providing ethical approval? Always allow plenty of time in your research planning to obtain ethical approval.
Who do I need to get ethical approval from?
Who carries out the independent ethical review is determined by the nature of your research project and your participants. You may need to obtain ethical approval from more than one organisation.
Research undertaken as a university employee or as part of a university research course
You need to apply for ethical approval from the University’s Research Ethics Committee.
Research involving users of NHS health and social care services
The UK Health Departments have a policy defining when ethical approval from NHS Research Ethics Committees is a requirement and how these committees operate.
See Governance arrangements for Research Ethics Committees: a harmonised edition (GAfREC). Updated April 2012.
The policy document defines that Research Ethics Committee review is needed when:
- Potential research participants are identified from, or because of, their past or present use of NHS or Social Care Services, including services provided under contract with the private or voluntary sectors
- Potential research participants are identified because of their status as relatives or carers of past or present users of these services
The Health Department for each UK country has a Research Ethics Service (RES) and local Research Ethics Committees (RECs).
The websites for each Research Ethics Service will provide details of your local Research Ethics Committee and who to contact for advice.
Research involving health or social care staff
NHS Research Ethics Committee approval is not required when staff are recruited in the context of their professional role. However, in compliance with Research Governance such research projects need some form of independent ethical review.
Integrated Research Application System (IRAS)
IRAS is a UK-wide system that streamlines the process for applying for permissions and approvals to conduct health and social care research.
IRAS allows researchers to enter the information for the relevant permissions and approvals once, instead of having to complete several separate application forms for each review body.
Research outside the statutory sector
Requirements for obtaining ethical approval for research undertaken, for example, in charities, independent health organisations or the private sector will depend on the research governance arrangement of that organisation.
NHS ethical approval is required if the organisation is contracted to provide NHS health or social care services.
Smaller organisations may not have processes in place for obtaining independent ethical review. In such cases you may wish to consider undertaking your research collaboratively with a university and/or NHS organisation.
You can also approach your local NHS Research Ethics Committee who may agree to review your research.
Additional resources on ethical approval
For a simple summary of the type of ethical review required and related policy, see this resource produced by Cardiff University School of Social Sciences.