The Health Research Authority (HRA) is trialling whether it could take on some of the checks that all research studies need to undergo before they can be approved to go ahead.
The process of getting NHS R&D permissions has been identified as one of the major barriers to getting research projects off the ground in the UK, particularly in projects across multiple sites where multiple permissions are needed.
Although the Academy of Medical Sciences recommended that the single regulator of health research should take on coordination of these NHS R&D permissions, this role wasn't originally on the HRA's remit.
However, the HRA does have a role to look at steps it can take to improve the research journey - streamlining the process of getting research projects off the ground. As part of this, the HRA has announced it will conduct a feasibility study to see if it could combine NHS study-wide review and elements of the research ethics committee review into a single assessment.
If successful, NHS organisations would rely on the HRA assurance and focus their local review on the feasibility of running the study at that site, reducing the duplication and delay in getting studies approved.
A feasibility project will begin immediately, with a planned pilot in spring 2013, and decisions on whether to move to implementation after that.
The draft care and support bill, which is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny in parliament at the moment, contains clauses that will establish the HRA as non-departmental public body.
In our response to the draft bill, we asked for more detail on how the HRA will work with those responsible for research governance in the NHS.
Particularly, because the factsheets that accompany the bill state that the HRA will act:
as part of a national system of research governance, promoting a proportionate approach among all those involved in research, including for example NHS providers.
This feasibility study starts to answer that question, and we look forward to seeing its outcome.