The main task of research ethics committees (RECs) is to assess research studies before their start. In this study, 24 RECs that evaluate medical research were sent questionnaires about their structure and functions. The RECs were divided into two separate groups: those working in university hospital districts (uRECs) and those in central hospital districts (non-uRECs). The two groups were different in many respects: the uRECs were bigger in size, covered a wider range of disciplines (both medical and non-medical), had better resources and more frequent and regular meetings. After the survey was performed and analysed, the Medical Research Act was amended so that only hospital districts with a medical faculty in their region had a duty to establish ethics committees. After the amendment, the number of RECs evaluating medical research in Finland decreased from 25 to 9. The ethics committees that remained had wider expertise and were better equipped already by the time of this survey. Only one non-uREC was continuing its work, and this was being done under the governance of a university hospital district. Simple measures were used for qualitative analysis of the work of RECs that evaluate medical research. These showed differences between RECs. This may be helpful in establishing an ethics committee network in a research field or administrational area.
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