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Ethics Advisory Committee recommends key changes

National Ethics Advisory Committee recommends key changes

Proposed changes to New Zealand's ethical review system will ensure that research participants are protected, and will streamline the review of research applications, says Health Minister Annette King.

Ms King has accepted a report from the National Ethics Advisory Committee (NEAC), which recommends key changes to how the current system of ethical review operates, including setting up a new national ethics committee for all multi-centre and national research studies.

“These changes ensure that the lessons learned from both the Cartwright and Gisborne Inquiries are translated into action, and that the strengths of the current system are built upon,” Ms King said.

“Ethics committees play a key role in assuring appropriate protection for research participants, and in ensuring we have good research to promote new knowledge and a healthier community, but under the current system of ethical review of multi-centre research there's been some duplication of committee processes.

"In some instances, researchers doing research across different regions have to obtain 13 different ethical reviews, which then have to be co-ordinated. This is not the best use of our resources."

Ms King says there is one national set of standards for ethical review, and the changes will mean that researchers will be required to have just one review to check the standards are met.

“A single-region study will require one regional committee review and a multi-region or national study will require one national committee review. As a result, there will be fewer regional health and disability ethics committees (RECs), with numbers reduced from 15 to 6, though their regions of jurisdiction will be widened. There will be four regions, together covering the whole country, with two committees for each of the two busiest regions.

Ms King says ethics committees do very important work, but to date there has been no direct statutory basis for their work. “They are at present established only administratively by the Ministry of Health. They will now be established clearly and directly under statute and they will report their activities through Parliament.

"It's important that there is a statutory authority for ethics committees to provide a clear and secure source of public authority for the function of independent ethics committee review, and a clear framework for public accountability and transparency."

Ms King says New Zealand’s talents and resources will be concentrated into the six new regional committees and the one new national committee.

“Expertise and resources will be retained and be more focused. The proposed changes will safeguard the independence of ethical review, local input, lay people's contribution, and consultation.”

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