An update regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and health and social care-related research

Updated 2 April 2020

The University Research Ethics Committee has published an update relating to research projects involving face-to-face participant interaction granted ethical approval from College Research Ethics Committee (CREC) or University Research Ethics Committee (UREC). This requires all researchers to make changes to ongoing research involving participant interactions and how these are conducted. All face-to-face research interactions eg participant interviews must be ceased with immediate effect.

The University Research Ethics committee has also published an update in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and work relating to Activities Covered by the Human Tissue Act (2004). There is currently a moratorium with immediate effect, on all work related to the collection, use, storage and disposal of relevant material under the University of Westminster’s Human Tissue Authority (HTA) licence.

There have also been a number of external updates around health and social care related research. Researchers are responsible for checking these websites regularly for changes or updates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please see below.

Health Research Authority

Student research (last updated on 23 Mar 2020)

(Student studies are those undertaken primarily for the purpose of obtaining an educational qualification. Studies where the main purpose is to undertake specific research – and the educational qualification is secondary – do not fall into this category.)

COVID-19: guidance on health and social care research projects for educational purposes:

“This guidance relates to health and social care research projects conducted by undergraduate and master’s students.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the HRA and devolved administrations are prioritising the review of studies related to COVID-19. There is also significant pressure on the NHS/HSC, limiting its ability to participate in research studies unrelated to COVID-19.

We have therefore decided stop reviewing applications for individual undergraduate and master’s student projects from now until further notice.”

New applications will be considered for:

  • PhD students
  • Undergraduate and master’s level student projects where students are involved in contributing to elements of a project or programme. These studies should be led by research active course leaders or supervisors with recent and significant experience of approval processes and should not put unnecessary pressure on the health or social care system at a time of national crisis

Students will be encouraged to consider alternatives (non-exhaustive list) as highlighted by HRA, which are both research and non-research alternatives.

Research alternatives include:

  • Research in areas other than health or social care
  • Health or social care research that doesn’t involve patients, service users, or identifiable samples/tissue or identifiable data
  • Secondary research that does not require REC or R&D study-wide review such as literature, rapid, scoping or systematic reviews

Please see the HRA's Student research page for non-research alternative suggestions from HRA. However specific local advice will vary depending on discipline and course. For example, where appropriate, project supervisors and students must check with their Course Leader and Project Module Leader that their proposed alternative projects meet the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements of their course.

Health Research Authority

COVID-19: Guidance for sponsors, sites and researchers (last updated on 26 March 2020)

This guidance relates to Research Ethics Committee (REC) and NHS arrangements. This is a rapidly evolving situation and guidance will be updated in response to feedback. Please check the linked page for updates.

Health Research Authority

Research in the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic (last updated on 20 March 2020)

“Whilst organisations across health and social care research are working closely together to prioritise critical Coronavirus studies and ensure processes are in place for all other research, clinical care and patient safety is the top priority for the NHS during the pandemic and it is possible that any and all research which is not related to COVID-19 may go on to be disrupted during this time.”

National Institute of Health Research (NIHR)

An update by Professor Chris Whitty

Impact of COVID-19 on research funded or supported by NIHR

Pausing set-up of new or ongoing non COVID-19 studies

“Until further notice, the NIHR Clinical Research Network is pausing the site set up of any new or ongoing studies at NHS and social care sites that are not nationally prioritised COVID-19 studies... During this time, the MHRA and HRA will continue to provide an approvals service for all studies, prioritised in accordance with the national situation, ensuring site set-up can restart promptly in due course.”

What does 'pausing' the site set up of new or ongoing studies mean?

“As of 23 March 2020, the NIHR Clinical Research Network will not be assessing any new commercial or non-commercial studies for CRN Support (with the exception of nationally sponsored COVID-19 studies received through the Department of Health and Social Care’s expedited Urgent Public Health processes)...”

Read the full statement published by NIHR.

Read the Q&A document.

Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

The MHRA have guidance on managing clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic (last updated 24 March 2020) as well as guidance on clinical trials applications for Coronavirus (COVID-19) (published 19 March 2020).