Health Care Analysis 28 (2):99-120 (2020)

Abstract
European and international regulation of human health research is typified by a morass of interconnecting laws, diverse and divergent ethical frameworks, and national and transnational standards. There is also a tendency for legislators to regulate in silos—that is, in discrete fields of scientific activity without due regard to the need to make new knowledge as generalisable as possible. There are myriad challenges for the stakeholders—researchers and regulators alike—who attempt to navigate these landscapes. This Delphi study was undertaken in order to provide the first interdisciplinary and crosscutting analysis of health research regulation, as it is experienced by such stakeholders in the UK context. As well as reinforcing existing understandings of the regulatory environment, Delphi participants called for greater collaboration, and even co-production, of processes involved in health research regulation. On the basis of this research, we offer insights about how health research regulation can become a matter with which a wider range of stakeholders—including researchers, regulators, publics and research sponsors—can engage. The evidence supports the normative claim that health research regulation should continue to move away from strict, prescriptive rules-based approaches, and towards flexible principle-based regimes that allow researchers, regulators and publics to co-produce regulatory systems serving core principles. By unpacking thorny concepts and practices at the heart of health research regulation—including the public interest and public engagement—our results have the potential to situate and breathe life into them. The results also demonstrate that while proportionality is well-recognised as a crucial element of flexible regulatory systems, more must be done to operationalise this as an ethical assessment of the values and risks at stake at multiple junctures in the research trajectory. This is required if we are to move beyond proportionality as a mere risk-management tool. Compliance culture no longer accurately reflects the needs and expectations of researchers or regulators, nor does it necessarily produce the best research. Embracing uncertainty—both as a human practice and a regulatory objective—may represent the brighter future for health research.
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DOI 10.1007/s10728-019-00383-9
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