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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

COVID-19 updates for researchers

BSMS > Research > Support and governance > Governance and ethics > COVID-19 updates for researchers

COVID-19 updates for researchers

For the latest information on undergraduate, postgraduate (taught and research degrees) and staff research following the COVID-19 outbreak, please see our dedicated webpage below.

Medical research building on Sussex Campus

Medical Research Building reopening

The return to work plan for the Medical Research Building (MRB) has been passed with limited members of staff having returned on Friday 29 May and Monday 1 June.

MRB staff are some of the first to return to labs in the UK, which is testament to Dr Natalie Harriman, Jose Pacheco Benitez and the MRB staff. 

As part of the return, the write up room occupancy has been limited to four people. If more than four colleagues need to use an office, the excess will need to find another space, so laptops are required where possible. 

A series of MRB COVID-19 rules, declaration forms and personalised risk assessments are available for those who need them. Please contact Natalie Harriman, Technical Services Manager, for more information.

Email Natalie Harriman >

Sponsored clinical research announcement

Important Announcement for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught Students Proposing to Conduct Sponsored Clinical Research in the 2020/21 Academic Year.

On 10 June 2020, the Health Research Authority (HRA) confirmed it would no longer accept applications from undergraduate and postgraduate taught students until further notice. 

The HRA confirms that no new UG and PGT student applications can be submitted for the following types of ethical and governance review:

  • NHS Research Ethics Committee (REC) review;
  • Health Research Authority (HRA) Approval (applicable to NHS staff surveys requiring HRA Approval but not NHS REC review).

This decision directly applies to primary research submitted towards an educational qualification and proposed as part of either an undergraduate Individual Research Project (IRP), or a Postgraduate Master’s Dissertation project. 

Supervisors may wish to refer the HRA’s statement published on the HRA website, detailing guidance for student research.  

However, it is expected that individual students whom this decision immediately impacts devise, under the guidance of their supervisor, an alternative project which does not necessitate Health Research Authority review.

Undergraduate students preparing for Individual Research Project (IRP) can consult Dr Clio Berry, if they require further advice. Dr Trevor Welland and Ceri Butler can be contacted by Postgraduate students and their supervisors for guidance.

Student in a green lab coat looking down a microscope

Online ethics drop in and advice

Each Tuesday morning between 10am-12pm.

Staff or students may wish to discuss amending their research to enable it to take place virtually, have questions relating to the COVID-19 guidance and procedures, or simply want some guidance on submitting a new ethics application to the Research Governance and Ethics Committee (RGEC).  If so, they can book a time to attend a virtual ethics ‘drop-in’ online on Tuesday mornings (between 10.00 – 12.00) by contacting Caroline Brooks on or

Guidance on the use of video conferencing platforms in research 

This document offers recently developed guidance for staff and student researchers considering the use of video conferencing platforms to conduct online research interviews and/or focus groups. It provides clear guidelines on platforms which are GDPR compliant and appropriate for use in research.

Guidance on using video conferencing in research >

Close up of hands in purple latex gloves holding a small sample bottle with red liquid

Applications for COVID-19 research projects

To ensure that COVID-19 research projects can start as quickly as possible, the BSMS RGEC is offering fast-tracked ethical and governance review for all COVID-19 related new studies, as well as amendments to add a COVID-19 component to an existing project. 

These submissions do not need to be booked in for review at a scheduled meeting. The Committee will respond quickly to arrange a fast-tracked review for your project. 

To guarantee swift confirmation of a decision for new COVID-19 studies, the Committee will first discuss the proposal with the PI, working closely with them to agree on the logistical details of the application prior to online submission. Please contact the Research Integrity, Ethics and Governance Administrator, Caroline Brooks, to arrange an initial discussion for your project.

Email Caroline Brooks >

Lab student smiling while at the lab bench

Guidance for RGEC applicants (COVID-19)

The BSMS Research Governance and Ethics Committee (RGEC) will continue to operate. However, the Committee will now solely conduct its business online with immediate effect. 

While all physical meetings of the Committee and Sub-Panel are now suspended, the RGEC will operate virtually, conducting online review of all applications submitted.In order to continue to offer an ethical review service with the least disruption for applicants, the RGEC will continue to maintain the existing schedule of monthly review. To achieve this: 

  • Scheduled Committee and Sub-Panel meeting dates publicised to applicants will now serve as an operational deadline by which Committee and Sub-Panel review is submitted. 
  • Applicants should continue to book in their applications (and substantial amendments) for review at a specific ‘meeting’ via Sussex Direct and to submit their application by the respective meeting deadline. 
  • It may be possible, to arrange a separate virtual discussion with the Chair, Deputy Chair and Secretary, either for complex re-submissions, or for new applications posing significant logistical concerns which would best be talked through. However, this is by prior agreement and on receipt of a strong justification:   

We hope that this approach offers the least disruption to service for all applicants. Thank you.

Someone in a white lab coat and purple latex gloves holding a small tube sample and pipette

Undergraduate and postgraduate (taught) research

Guidance for students who have previously received ethical approval from RGEC for research projects which involve face-to-face interactions with research participants (such as one-to-one interviews or focus groups):

All face-to-face research activity with participants has now been suspended.

Where a student’s research project is required as part of completion of a module or course, please consider changing the study methods, where possible, rather than discontinuing the project. 

Please submit an Amendment to RGEC via the online ethical review application system in Sussex Direct, to provide the Committee with an audit trail for these changes. The Committee will grant expedited approval for Amendments that meet the following strict criteria: 

Amendments to projects where the sole change will be to halt in-person research interactions and to now conduct these interactions online (for e.g. using Skype, online questionnaires or other University approved online systems). No further changes to the protocol originally approved by the Research Governance and Ethics Committee.  


Follow guidance available on the Governance and Ethics page on the BSMS website in the User Manual regarding submission of Amendments:

more on BSMS Governance and Ethics > 

This requires completing and uploading a ‘Request for Amendment Form’ that clearly outlines the proposed changes, uploading revised participant facing documents (Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form), and updating the project end date (and start date where necessary) for the application within Sussex Direct.

  • Revised Participant Information Sheets and Consent Forms should be uploaded which reflect that research interactions will now be conducted online. Please include a clause to receive active consent from participants for online data that will be collected, and clarify what personal data, for e.g. contact details, will be needed, and how these data will be stored (i.e. using University approved storage and systems).
  • Please clarify if any recordings of online interactions with participants will be made. These must be stored securely and only within University systems.  
  • A deadline should be provided to participants of when recordings, as well as any other data collected, will be destroyed.  

Supervisors are responsible for ensuring the above criteria are met, especially the security of participant data, and the safety of research students. 


All field trips and international travel are now cancelled for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

Researchers who travel in disregard of University travel guidance for research purposes risk not being insured and also do so without ethical and governance approval from the University.

Student taking a temperature reading with a small machine

Pausing studies

For any on-going research projects that Supervisors may wish to ‘place on hold’ in the event they can be completed at a later date, please ensure participants are fully informed.

Submission of an Amendment, requiring completion of a Request for an Amendment Form submitted via the online ethical review application system, in Sussex Direct, will be required to extend the project ‘end date’ for the study.

Visit Sussex Direct >

student pointing at computer scans of organs

Postgraduate (research) and staff research

All face-to-face research activity with participants has now been suspended.

The same principles previously outlined also apply to PGR and staff research projects.

  • The University expects that all staff and PhD research approved by the BSMS RGEC that involved face to face interaction with research participants either ceases, is suspended or is modified to ensure that interactions now occur remotely (either via telephone or an online videoconference platform) only.
  • Where research is funded externally by grants (or similar) the researcher has a responsibility to ensure that they are aware of the financial implications of suspending or modifying the plan of research and its deliverables that were previously agreed. Research & Enterprise Services has published a webpage with information for research grant applicants and grant holders
  • As with PGT and UG research, the University policy is for all field trips and international travel to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. Researchers who travel in disregard of University travel guidance for research and without authorisation risk not being insured and not having ethical approval for their work
  • To enable research to continue where possible, the Research Governance and Ethics Committee will conduct fast-tracked review for Amendments to applications where the sole change to the study will be to halt in-person research interactions and to now conduct these interactions online, and/or to extend a project ‘end date’. These Amendments should be submitted using a completed Request for an Amendment Form submitted via the online ethical review application system, in Sussex Direct. (NB if you or your colleagues are involved with grant-funded research you should check with the funders in the first instance to ascertain if they will permit no-cost extensions.) For further information, see the University’s guidance regarding Covid-19 and research grant applicants and grant holders. [Same link as above].

Please contact us via should you require any further information on the above.

Sponsored research

(Studies that are undertaken involving some aspect of NHS collaboration and have been subject to HRA/NHS REC approval and have the University of Sussex as the formal research ‘Sponsor’) - Updated 12 June 2020.

  • The University is conscious of the complexity of its portfolio of clinical research activity and is also mindful that as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves there will be unprecedented calls on the NHS and its resources. It is therefore vital that decisions on on-going research should be made in close consultation with sites and research funders.
  • For new studies relating to COVID-19, the University will continue to follow the guidance of the Health Research Authority (HRA), notably how such work, if supported through standard University authorisations, it can be expedited from a research governance perspective.


**As of 20 March, the HRA has indicated that no new studies from student researchers below doctoral level would be accepted until subsequent notification**[1].