As a general guide, research originating in a tertiary educational institution will normally be reviewed by an ethics committee of that institution (an Institutional Ethics Committee (IEC)), if that committee is approved by a Health and Disability Ethics Committee (HDEC) to review HRC funding applications. However, particular types of research proposals received by an IEC may be referred to a HDEC. A research proposal which involves both human and animal subjects will require separate approvals from both human and animal ethics committees. Researchers must also meet the established ethical standards in the National Ethics Advisory Committee (NEAC) ethical guidelines when undertaking health and disability research in New Zealand.

Do I need ethical approval?

Research using animal or human participants, animal or human materials, personal information, or involving clinical trials, or combinations of such studies, requires special consideration. Further guidance on what requires ethical approval, and the ethical approval process, can be found in the HRC Guidance Notes on Research Ethics and the Standard Operating Procedures for Health and Disability Ethics Committees.

The HRC considers that ethical approval is best sought before submitting an application to the HRC, but accepts that this may not always be possible. All HRC-funded research must have, where necessary, ethical approval from the appropriate regulatory agencies before the research begins. 

Where to apply

There are two types of approved ethics committees that conduct ethical review of the proposals to be funded by the HRC:

  • Health and Disability Ethics Committees (HDECs); and
  • Institutional Ethics Committees (IECs).

How to apply for ethical approval

To apply for ethical approval you must submit an application for ethical review to an approved ethics committee. For applications to HDECs, the HDEC form must be used. Further information on the process of ethical review is available here.

Specific considerations

Below are some specific considerations, and relevant resources, that you may need to take into account for your particular research:

Observational studies: Observational research, audits and related activities
Is your study an observational study? Observational studies include observational research (which primarily adds to generalisable knowledge about a health or disability issue) and also audits and related activities, (which primarily improve the delivery of the particular health or disability support service being studied or to control a threat to public health). 

Observational studies are where the investigator has no control over study variables and merely observes outcomes, and observational studies differ from intervention or experimental studies in that no intervention other than the recording, classifying, counting and analysing of data takes place.

Intervention studies/Clinical trials
Is your study an intervention study? In an intervention study, an investigator intervenes to prevent, diagnose or treat illness or disease, and also studies the effects of the intervention for its safety and/or benefit. A clinical trial of a new blood pressure medicine is an example of an intervention study.

Māori health research
Does your study involve Māori participants or research on issues relevant to Māori health? You may need to consider initiating consultation with Māori to develop your research project in a culturally appropriate way.
Pacific health research
Does your study involve Pacific peoples living in New Zealand? You may need to consider the Pacific ethical standards of research.

Does your study involve the use of human tissue for future unspecified research purposes? Does your study involve collection and use of human materials? Does your study involve genetic research? Does your study involve children? Does your study involve personal health information?

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