What if? (or ‘Help – I’ve got a problem’)
No matter how experienced, or how well prepared you are, problems can arise. It’s always a good idea to talk to someone – such as your supervisor, research team, and colleagues.
How you approach the issue depends on what you are concerned about:
- A participant in your study (or someone else, as a result of something you have seen or heard during your research)? Find advice in our section on the limits of confidentiality and on planning for the unexpected.
- A researcher? See our section on risks to researchers.
In general, if you are concerned about someone, the usual protocol is to discuss with them first, if possible, a course of action. The exception would be if you thought someone might be placed at greater risk of harm if you did that.
When to go back to the ethics committee?
If a problem arises, you should be able to contact the research ethics committee that reviewed your research, and seek their advice on how to respond to your dilemma. If this is your University or institutional research ethics committee, this can be done informally. Even if your research was reviewed by an external committee (such as an NHS REC) and not your institutional committee, it is worth contacting your institutional committee for informal advice.
If more serious concerns arise, or if you have to deal with a dilemma in a way that changes the procedures agreed by the ethics committee, then you should go back to the committee – otherwise you may invalidate the terms of your ethics approval, and this could cause you problems if further issues arise.