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The Ad Hoc Advisory Group’s proposals for research ethics committees: a mixture of the timid, the revolutionary, and the bizarre
  1. A J Dawson
  1. Correspondence to:
 A J Dawson
 Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele Hall, Keele University, Staffs, ST5 5BG, UK;; Website:

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The Report of the Ad Hoc Adivisory Group on the Operation of NHS Research Ethics Committees has resulted in a strange mixture of the timid, the revolutionary, and the bizarre.

The Report of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on the Operation of NHS Research Ethics Committees (AHAG) is a curious document.1 The remit of the review was focused on the workings and effectiveness of NHS research ethics committees (both the local committees (LRECs) and the multicentre committees (MRECs)). The Group was primarily set up in response to a series of complaints from medical researchers about the new research governance regime in the UK as a result of the Clinical Trials Directive2 and the Governance Arrangements for NHS Research Ethics Committees.3 The opportunity was also taken to consider the role of research ethics committees in a wider context, and take account of recent developments in relation to the ethics review of social care research,4 student projects,5 as well as recent legislation such as the Human Tissue Act,6 and the Mental Capacity Act.7 However, the resulting report is a strange mixture of the timid, the revolutionary, and the bizarre.

A good example of the report’s timidity is its reluctance to propose fundamental change to the process of review or seriously limit the type of research that requires REC review. To its credit AHAG does suggest that some research ‘especially surveys and many studies on NHS staff, could normally be conducted safely without a requirement for REC review’ (section 3.1).1 This is, of course, to be welcomed. However, the report ultimately seems dismissive of the general complaint from researchers that the current process is inappropriately uniform. For example, in section 3.2, it is argued that the ‘common perception that the NHS REC system is dominated …

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  • Competing interests: A J Dawson is a member of the Shropshire Local Research Ethics Committee. The views expressed in this article are purely the author’s own. The author has been involved in training the members of research ethics committees and individuals with responsibility for research ethics and research governance in higher education as part of his employment at Keele University.

  • Ethical approval was not required.