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Is it research, audit or service evaluation?

It is sometimes difficult to tell whether studies fall under "research", "audit" or "service evaluation". All these different types of studies take place within the NHS, and there are different procedures for each type of study 

  • Research is designed and conducted to generate new knowledge. All clinical research requires a sponsoring organisation and R&D approval. Most of this research will also require ethical approval.
  • Audits are designed to find out whether the quality of a service meets a defined standard. Audits need to go through the UHBW Clinical Audit Department
  • Service Evaluations are designed to answer the question "what standard does this service achieve"?

Non-research studies involving questionnaires and surveys should go through the UH Bristol Questionnaire, Interview and Survey Group (QIS). Research studies that do not require ethical approval but involve questionnaires and surveys should also be submitted to QIS (e.g. staff surveys).

How to tell if your study is research, audit or service evaluation

  • Research is designed and conducted to create new knowledge. If this research is generalisable (i.e. can be applied beyond UHBW), then it falls under the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research, and you need to follow the systems of approval for NHS Research.
  • Audit is designed to answer the question "Does this service reach a predetermined standard?" Audits need to go through the UHBW Clinical Audit Department
  • Service evaluation is designed to answer the question "What standard does this service achieve?" There is no formal process for approving service evaluation or improvement projects but you should seek agreement from your service / line manager before embarking on a project. 

If you are planning a new service, or changing the way you provide an existing service, you may be required by law to involve patients (service users) in this process. Please visit the Patient Experience Team for more information on how to involve patients. 

It can sometimes be difficult to decide whether your survey project is research, audit or service evaluation. The National Research Ethics Service (NRES) has published the following guidance to help you decide: NRES Guidance PDF.

All three types of study require the approval of each NHS site where the study takes place, but the processes you need to follow will differ depending on whether the study is classed as research, audit or service evaluation. Only research requires REC (Research Ethics Committee) review.

If you've had a look at the NRES leaflet and you're still not sure, you can contact the following people for advice:

Research: or call the R&I department on 0117 34 20233

Audit: or call 0117 34 23614

Continous Improvement: or call 0117 34 26708

Operational definitions of Clinical Audit, Research, Service Evaluation and Service Improvement activity have been agreed between the Trust's Clinical Governance Manager, Research Development Manager and Head of Innovation (September 2007).

UH Bristol clinical audits
Read more information and links to the clinical audit department.
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Service evaluation
Find out more about definitions and further information.
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Questionnaire, interview and survey (QIS) group
Links to UH Bristol QIS group.
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