Ethics committee responses

Appeals processes

Will you succeed? Yes you will indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

Except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t.

(Dr. Seuss: Oh! The Places You’ll Go)


Sometimes it may happen that either:

  • you have tried all the steps outlined in our section on responding to comments and still receive an unfavourable response from the committee, or
  • the changes the ethics committee requires are not possible, because of the impact on your research quality or design.

In those situations, you may need to resort to the appeals processes of your committee. All ethics committees should have some sort of appeals process. It is, for instance, a requirement of the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics (FRE) that such processes are put in place. Every institution or organisation will have its own appeals procedures, and this will determine the options that are available to you.

Of course, appealing an application is likely to be time consuming, especially if you are working with an external ethics committee. Timescales are often tight on research projects, and you will need to judge whether you need to go back and tell your funder before you make an appeal. Don’t assume that this will be problematic – remember the funder supported your plan to do this research in the first place, and so they are likely to be supportive and to want to help if they can. See our section on going back to the funder.

Your own organisation

If you have applied to your own organisation’s ethics committee, then a first step is to contact the administrator/coordinator of that committee to find out about the appeals process. There may also be published information on the institution’s web pages.

NRES Committees

If you have applied to an NRES Committee (an NHS Research Ethics Committee or the Social Care Research Ethics Committee), there are two steps to follow, according to guidance on the NRES website:

1. Resubmission

First, and wherever possible (according to the guidance) you should resubmit a revised application to the same Research Ethics Committee. The guidance implies (but does not require) that you should try this first. So, if you cannot make the changes require, it might be worth re-submitting your application with a detailed written explanation of why you cannot comply with their requirements (using research literature to justify your position, wherever possible).

2. Appeal

Second, you can make a formal appeal, by emailing the Acting Head of Operations for England. No alternative contact is specified for appeals from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, so this contact should be used in the first instance. Explain in your email the reasons for seeking an appeal. If an appeal is agreed, your application will be reviewed by another NRES committee.

As noted above, this system applies to the Social Care Research Ethics Committee (SCREC) as well as to NHS Medical Research Ethics Committees (MRECs). There is only one SCREC, and this means that if you make an appeal, your application will be passed to an NHS committee for review.

If your application is still reviewed unfavourably, following appeal, then there is no other recourse – it means you cannot carry out the study as proposed in settings that come under the remit of the NRES committee. You can, however, still re-design your study and submit it as a new application, with the agreement of your funder.

Other committees

If your research has not been approved by any other committee, contact them directly to ask for specific advice on their appeals processes.  Check again whether you could reach any compromise that would allow your research to go ahead. 

For more information, see: