Flying Blind is a series of three reports dedicated to uncovering the acute levels of data fragmentation existing at all levels of Australia’s health landscape.
Our earlier blog posts highlighted the irony of numerous ethical reviews for the same research project, which makes us wonder about the validity of multiple opinions, besides creating huge administrative burdens and wasted time and costs for the researcher as well as the ethics committees themselves. This is especially the case in studies that evaluate service quality, interventions and outcomes, as they are required to follow patients across several hospitals, health services, local health districts and across jurisdictions, and call for utilizing data from different data collections.
Obtaining ethics approvals for such ‘multi-centre’ health research continues to be an onerous exercise for researchers, as they navigate the varying, and sometimes inconsistent requirements of multiple HRECS for the same project. One recent study described an Australian multi-centre project in which the cost of ethics approvals alone accounted for 38% of the project budget. For a study involving 50 centres the mean cost per site was $6960. In the same study, 75% of time was estimated to have been spent on repeated tasks as well as tasks that were time-intensive, such as re-formatting documents that “did nothing to improve study design or participant safety.” This is just one example of a reality that the health and medical research sector has been dealing with for over two decades.
Researchers expressed such frustrations in a 1996 report to the then Federal Minister of Health, claiming that the ethics approval processes existed in isolation from one another, increasing workloads for both researchers and ethics committees.