Getting Ethics, Getting Qualitative Research: The Challenges of Applying for National Health Service Ethics Approval


Many qualitative researchers who work in the area of health and illness have become familiar with the United Kingdom’s National Research Ethics Service, the body that provides ethical approval for research that takes place within the National Health Service. Given that the National Health Service delivers the vast majority of health care in the United Kingdom, securing National Research Ethics Service approval is a necessity for any social scientist who wishes to conduct an empirical examination of medicine, health, and illness in this country. Doing research within the National Health Service context is both intellectually enriching and often practically necessary for the field of study. However, the process for gaining the required ethical approval can be difficult, and it is not without obstacles of which even a seasoned researcher should be aware. This case study presents my own experience of negotiating the requirements of a National Research Ethics Service research ethics committee undertaken to conduct my PhD fieldwork. I will start with a brief outline of my research, before I detail the challenges that I faced to gain the ethical approval required from the research ethics committee, and the research and development application process, which is part and parcel of research ethics committee approval. I will end the discussion by framing my experience within the current debate on the advantages and disadvantages that the biomedical research ethics model presents to social science research in medicine.

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