Research Ethics & Governance

Clearly it is very important that any research is undertaken robustly, ethically and safely. To ensure this, the NHS, universities and other bodies review all research proposals prior to commencement to ensure the following:

  • • a sound research question
  • • academic rigour
  • • ethical processes and practices
  • • the minimisation of risk including that to potential participants, researchers and the reputation of the research team, institution and funding body.
  • • safety, including environmental, physical, mental and emotional


Research ethics are reviewed through n research ethics committee. For NHS research this is a Research Ethics Committee (REC). Any research being undertaken within the North of Scotland needs to be reviewed by the NHS Grampian REC. Non NHS research is usually reviewed in a university or other relevant organisational ethics committee.

Research governance within the NHS is reviewed and monitored by the relevant Research and Development Office.

For NHS research being undertaken within Grampian and North Isles contact the NHS Grampian R&D Office tel: 01224 553846.

For NHS research being undertaken in Highlands and the Western Isles contact the NHS Highland R&D office tel: 01463 255822.

Research governance is also the responsibility of the researchers and their research unit or base e.g. the university or other institution supporting the research.

NHS Research Ethics

All research undertaken in the NHS must adhere to the guidelines set down by the National Patient Safety Agency, National Research Ethics Service (NRES)

The National Research Ethics Service (NRES) has a dual mission:

• to protect the rights, safety, dignity and well-being of research participants; and

• to facilitate and promote ethical research that is of potential benefit to participants, science and society.

Further details can be obtained from the NRES website

Is my project research?

Not all clinical enquiry is deemed research. Non research clinical enquiry includes audit, service evaluation, health surveillance and usual practice. Full information about these terms can be found on the Defining Research Leaflet. However, things are changing all the time and recent guidelines published by the Government arrangements for Research Ethics Committees (GafREC) in August 2011 leaflet.

GafREC states that under the harmonised GAfREC, certain types of research no longer require REC review. However, where the Research Governance Framework for Health and Social Care applies, the research will continue to require management permission from host care organisations (“R&D approval”).

No longer needing to go through NHS REC:

• the use of NHS premises

• recruitment of NHS staff and social care providers included by virtue of their professional role within the health and social care services for example the administration of interviews or questionnaires to such staff is now not required to have REC review.

New requirements: research that now must go through REC

• Adult social care in England, Adult and child social care in Wales and Northern Ireland (no guidelines about social care research in Scotland)

• Any research involving prisoners in the UK

NRES has produced an algorithm to help researchers to determine whether their project requires ethical review by a REC and researchers should check this in order to determine whether NHS REC submission is required. We advise you to look at this when deciding where your project needs to be reviewed. Click here to view this.

If in doubt your local R&D Office or CAHPR hub leader can help.

Useful Documents

Defining Research - NRES guidance to help you decide if your project requires review by a Research Ethics Committee

Does my project require review by a Research Ethics Committee?

Changes to the remit of Research Ethics Committees (September 2011)

Version 5.0 of the NRES SOPs – summary of main changes

RED Update