Applying for NHS Ethics approval – key tips

The IRAS website

The IRAS website

So, you’re planning a research project and you want to conduct it in NHS settings – so you need NHS Ethical approval. Doing this for the first time (or even second or third!) can be a rather daunting task so I thought I’d share my experience with you.

I have always found that the key to a good ethics application is a well-considered, detailed protocol. The ethics committee want to know that you have considered the main ethical implications of your study, including but not limited to:

  • Participation in the study, including the time participants are allowed to consider taking part, that they are fully informed of what would be required of them, how the data will be used and who the participants can contact in the event of a problem.
  • The quality and rigour of the data that will be collected using the methods described
  • That the data will be disseminated appropriately following completion

An ethics submission is made through the IRAS system ( but be aware that whilst you submit the completed form electronically, it is not until you have booked a meeting and sent your signed form as a hard copy, with all supporting documents to the REC (Research Ethics Committee) for review, that your submission is complete. Before you submit, make sure you read the forms through carefully and if possible ask someone else to do so too. Typos and grammatical errors look sloppy and will not leave a good first impression with the committee. The REC will review your submission at a REC meeting (as long as it is valid), the location of which is chosen when you are ready to submit your form. I would strongly advise that you always endeavour to attend these meetings in person to discuss your study, as this is a good opportunity to assure the committee of any concerns they have with regards to your study design and can prevent delays in obtaining approval. Try to anticipate questions that you may be asked by considering your protocol and submission from an ethical perspective.

Of course, even if you do all of this, there are no guarantees that your study will receive a favourable opinion, and inevitably there are always some minor changes to be made but following these tips will provide a good starting point if you are new to the ethics process.

Useful websites:

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