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Research bureaucracy in the United Kingdom: Seeking a balance: response from the Department of Health and COREC

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 09 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:622
  1. John Pattison, director of research and development (,
  2. Terry Stacey, director
  1. Department of Health, London SW1A 2NS
  2. Central Office of Research Ethics Committees, London W2 3QR

    EDITOR—Several articles about research ethics committees in the issue of 31 July have been constructive in advising about the need for change. Others have been less helpful, especially when based on error or misconception.

    Nicholson claimed that research ethics committees may be unable to function because of political control.1 There is not, and never has been, a proposal for “direct political control” of research ethics committee membership. The European Directive on Clinical Trials (directive 2001/20/EC) legally obliges all member states, including the United Kingdom, to “take the measures necessary for establishment and operation of ethics committees.” The newly created United Kingdom Ethics Committee Authority simply comprises the four ministers of the countries in the United Kingdom who have until now been separately responsible for their NHS research ethics committee systems. His claim that results of UK research could not now be used for regulatory purposes is simply unfounded.

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    Ethics committees must be independent of research organisations. This independence relates to their decisions, not their operating processes. Previously some 200 research ethics committees had different processes and forms—a …

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