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Ethical review of undergraduate student research in the NHS: evolution of the system could benefit us all
  1. Mark Wilkinson
  1. Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich, UK
  1. Dr M Wilkinson, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Colney Lane, Norwich NR4 7UY, UK; mark.wilkinson{at}

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One of the pressures placed upon researchers is the process of ethics review. This frequently provides considerable conflict. The process of review of student projects of little inherent risk is identical to that of their more senior colleagues. In this article I propose that we should be more tolerant of design problems within student research if the overall risk is minimal in order that the student can learn about the process of carrying out research.

The frequency and content of papers discussing research ethics review in specialist,1 professional2 3 and lay4 press suggests that many senior researchers find the process challenging. The opinion most frequently expressed is that research ethics committees (REC) work to an imprecise set of rules and represent a barrier to significant pieces of clinical research. In particular, specific criticism has been aimed at the review of student research58 and the difficulties that students and their supervisors face.

In ethics committees we usually police research very carefully, monitoring the detail of projects, including how participants will be selected, what data will be collected, how it will be handled and how the research is funded in addition to the adequacy of the consent process and information that underlies it. My experience as a member of NHS REC and governance committees and, more particularly, coordinator of student research, is that National Research Ethics Service (NRES) REC usually apply the same standards to student research with little inherent risk as to complex phase 1 studies with significant risk. Guidance in the standard operating procedures for NHS REC is at best unhelpful and at worst supportive of this view. …

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  • This article expresses personal views and has not been requested, funded or supported by any external agency.

  • Competing interests: None declared.