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Trials and Tribulations by Saul Miller1 takes the National Research Ethics Service to task for the closure of the Northumberland Research Ethics Committee (REC), but there are compelling reasons behind this decision.
The Northumberland closure is part of a national programme to merge and close NHS RECs because demand for their services is falling. In 2004–2005 there were 153 RECs in England that reviewed 9670 applications. In 2007–2008 the figures were 118 and 7257 respectively. There are many reasons for this change and it is not simply falling research interest. The Northumberland REC latterly has had fewer applications than other local committees and merging it with another will put its members' expertise to better use. It will also save taxpayers' money. While their members selflessly volunteer their time, RECs still have substantial associated costs that come from NHS funds.
The ‘triaging’ that Miller dislikes is simply an attempt to review, in a rapid and proportionate way, the many minimal risk applications RECs receive. All other research, such as that involving therapy, drugs, mental incapacity, identifiable tissue, personal data, or children, will of course continue to go through a full committee.