Routes for obtaining ethics approval

There are four main routes for obtaining ethics approval for research at SCHARR, listed below.


For research conducted overseas, check whether ethics approval is required locally. If so, then permissions need to be applied for in that country. Follow the procedure under the alternative ethics review procedure below to determine whether additional ethics approval is required by the University of Sheffield).

Review by a National Health Service Research Ethics Committee (NHS REC)

For research involving the NHS, you should check the Health Research Authority (HRA) decision tool to help you decide whether NHS REC approval is required.

Use the HRA decision tool

You should also check whether other permissions, including governance, are required via HRA approval or the University's research governance procedure. It is likely that University governance permissions are needed if the research is being sponsored by the University.

The University ethics review procedure (via the online system)

The University ethics review procedure is used when

  • ethics approval is not required via an NHS Research Ethics Committee (see above)
  • research comes under the broad definition of research outlined in the General Principles and Statements section of the Ethics Policy
  • research is led by the University of Sheffield (unless there is no appropriate procedure for ethical review at other institutions or a decision has been made to seek ethical approval at the University of Sheffield with the lead organisation) 
  • research is undertaken in the United Kingdom or abroad, unless there is an appropriate alternative procedure for ethical review (see below)

Read the University's research ethics approval procedure in full (login required)

The alternative ethics review procedure (via the online system)

The alternative ethics review procedure refers to the process that should be undertaken when a researcher wishes to rely upon the ethics approval obtained via an external organisation’s ethics review procedure (other than the NHS ethics review process).

Wherever possible, the University wishes to avoid a situation in which a researcher needs to apply for ethics review via more than one ethics review procedure (unless the research is taking place in two or more countries, in which case this may be unavoidable).

However, it is essential that research involving human participants, personal data and/or human tissue is subject to a robust ethics review process before the research commences. If ethics approval has been obtained from an institution with ethics procedures that have been judged to be sufficiently robust, you only need to upload the ethics application submitted and the approval letter to the alternative ethics system online.

View our list of institutions with approved ethics procedures

If the institution has been added to the list, you should upload the ethics application you submitted and a copy of the approval letter to the alternative ethics system online.

If you have obtained ethics approval from an institution which is not on this list, contact the Secretary to the UREC Lindsay Unwin ( with appropriate documents (outlined in section 4.3 of the research ethics approval procedure) to assess whether the institution can be added to our list.

If the institution’s ethics procedures are not deemed sufficiently robust, then you should make a full ethics application through the University ethics review procedure (see above).

Self-declared ethics application (via the online system)

 For research involving completely anonymised data (and the provider agrees this is the case) and where permissions have been obtained from those whose data you intend to use the University’s Ethics Application System includes a questionnaire to help researchers establish whether ethics approval is required or not.

This self-declaration process provides you with a letter to confirm that you have been through a process of ethical assessment, providing that your answers to the questionnaire indicate that ethics approval is not required for your research. 

If the research involves personal data, a full ethics application via the University ethics procedure is required.

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