Problems of students must not be ignoredBMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7019.1571a (Published 09 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1571
EDITOR,--K G M M Alberti's editorial draws a depressing picture of the current situation with regard to ethics committees,1 and the three accompanying short papers paint a familiar picture instantly recognisable by all trying to carry out research in the NHS.2 3 4 Problems that Alberti does not mention include research projects labelled as reviews to avoid the need for referral to, scrutiny by, and approval of ethics committees. Clinicians and others, bound by their NHS contracts, feel that they must answer the researchers' questions, which are sometimes intrusive, poorly framed, or even ethically unsound. Policymakers can also fail to take into account the agendas of those who commission such studies. These may suit the needs and agendas of all concerned (except the patients) but may fail to delineate the real situation. It is then easy to produce wrong or incomplete answers on which to make policy decisions.
A third problem that Alberti dismisses as irrelevant is the need for student projects to get ethical approval. As more students study for MSc degrees that require the completion of dissertations incorporating research, this problem will not go away. Dismissing these studies as “lacking the power to generate any useful data” misses the point. I teach on an MSc degree course, and the students are required to carry out research projects for their 25000 word dissertations in their final year. The research projects are usually relevant to their work as NHS professionals, but the difficulties that the students have just in meeting the financial costs of producing 24 or more copies of their research proposal for a meeting of an ethics committee are compounded when their proposal is not even considered and is put back to the next meeting, sometimes months later. With deadlines to meet, some students are denied the opportunity of carrying out studies that might generate useful data and instead are forced to carry out non-clinical research. Today's students are tomorrow's researchers. It would be damaging if ethics committees followed Alberti's advice to reject such applications. If they did so then one such study carried out by one of my students (a nurse), which has changed working practices in the accident and emergency department in which she works, would never have seen the light of day, and the unsatisfactory state of affairs she identified would have continued unchallenged and care continued to suffer.