Intended for healthcare professionals


Multicentre research ethics committees: has the cure been worse than the disease?

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 29 April 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1157

No, but idiosyncracies and obstructions to good research must be removed

  1. K G M M Alberti, president
  1. Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, London NW1 4LE

    Papers pp 1179, 1182, 1183 Personal view p 1217

    I first wrote about the byzantine labyrinth that surrounded obtaining ethics committees' approval for multicentre studies in England in 1995, as well as mentioning other unsatisfactory aspects of local research ethics committees.1 At that time a working party of the chief medical officer suggested the establishment of multicentre research ethics committees on a regional basis to take care of multicentre studies. These were established in 1997.2 So is it now simpler to obtain approval for multicentre studies? Are decisions reached more speedily? Are local research ethics committees restricting their comments on multicentre studies to local problems?Or has yet another layer of bureaucracy been added, making the process even more labyrinthine?

    In the past two years frustrated research workers have regularly told me that the new system is a disaster. Early feedback suggested that local research ethics committees were finding their subordinate role difficult. These committees have always jealously guarded their independence. The early problems led to further guidance from the Department of Health and NHS Executive on the precise responsibility …

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