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The ethics of research ethics committees

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 29 April 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1217
  1. Jon Nicholl, director.
  1. Medical Care Research Unit, University of Sheffield

    Our health service research unit has been carrying out primary evaluative studies for over 30 years. Much of what we do is designed to help improve health care and health services and inform NHS decisions. It may not be fundamental science but it feels worthwhile, sometimes has an important impact, and we know that it is valued, particularly if the studies are done in a timely and nationally representative manner.

    But as well as our ever shortening deadlines and increasing workloads we now find that we cannot do our jobs because of research ethics committees. I do not mean that our studies are unethical. Far from it, our studies are nearly always approved—eventually—but the time taken to get approval from several local research ethics committees (LRECs)and in overcoming bureaucratic and practical obstacles, rather than ethical problems, has become a barrier to our research.

    For ethics committees to have become barriers to ethical research … is certainly immoral

    The difficulties of …

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