Conflicts of interest
Rules and procedures for identifying, documenting and dealing with potential conflicts of interest are crucial to maintaining independence in the way a research ethics committee (REC) reviews applications. Potential conflicts of interest include (but are not limited to):
- conflicts between the interests of a research organisation (RO), or a part of one, and those of a researcher, research team or project partner making an application to the REC
- conflicts between the interests of a member of the REC and the interests of a researcher, research team or project partner making an application to the REC
- conflicts between the interests of the researcher and the interests of the research participants.
Fundamental to dealing with each of these situations is the principle of prior disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and withdrawal from discussion and decision-making. Guidance provided by the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) (external website) and the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct (external website) may be helpful.
ROs should publish procedures and mechanisms for complaints; these procedures should be transparent and should deal with allegations of unfair treatment of principal investigators and the research team or project partner, and complaints around REC decision-making. Provisions should be made for dissemination of the procedures to all staff including new employees and postgraduate students.
ROs should publish procedures and mechanisms for receiving and addressing, in a timely manner, appeals from researchers. Grounds for appeal should be clearly stated. Where a decision has gone against a proposal or has required significant revisions to its conduct, the principal investigator should have the right to request that the committee or sub-committee reconsider its decision, or to appeal to the principal REC. Where the decision under appeal was made by the principal REC, an appeal committee should be constituted. ROs can make arrangements to act as appeal committees for one another.