Important reminder: Research Ethics Policy and process for managing breaches of Policy

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC), I am writing to remind you of the importance of ensuring that all research involving human participants, personal data or human tissue complies with the requirements of the University's Ethics Policy Governing Research Involving Human Participants, Personal Data and Human Tissue, including ensuring that appropriate ethics approval is in place before the research commences.

In the current unprecedented circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, compliance with the Ethics Policy, and consideration of the health and wellbeing of research participants and researchers, remains of the utmost importance. However, the UREC has issued guidance which seeks to facilitate the ethical review of amendments to existing ethics applications, where this is required in response to the current restrictions on face-to-face research. This guidance can be found here.

Each year, the UREC deals with a number of cases in which the Ethics Policy has been breached by students and staff; in many cases the data collected without ethics approval must be destroyed, along with any analysis/written work based on that data (with potentially serious consequences for student progress and for completion of research projects). It is therefore imperative that you ensure that you, and any students you supervise or support, are aware of, and follow, the requirements of the Ethics Policy.

In addition, I would like to clarify the process that should be followed if it comes to light that the Policy has not been followed (for example, if ethics approval has not been obtained when it should have been, or if the terms of ethics approval have not been followed). All staff involved in research (including supervisors of students undertaking research) should, in the first instance, notify their Head of Department and departmental Principal Ethics Contact so that appropriate steps can be taken to manage and investigate the situation.

The full detail of the procedures that are followed in the event of a potential breach of the Ethics Policy are set out in sections 3.1.11 and 3.1.12 of the Policy.

If you have any queries, please contact Lindsay Unwin in the first instance (l.v.unwin@sheffield.ac.uk).

Best regards,

Professor Peter Bath
Chair of the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC)