The results of recent empirical investigations in research synthesis imply that research ethics committees are behaving unethically by endorsing new research which is unnecessary and by acquiescing in biased under-reporting of research which they have approved. The performance and accountability of research ethics committees would be improved if they required those proposing research to present systematic reviews of relevant previous research in support of their applications; to summarise the results of these reviews in the information prepared for potential participants; to register new controlled trials at inception; and to ensure that the results of these trials are made publicly available within a reasonable period of time after completion of data collection.
Since 1991 the NHS has attempted to identify and prioritise its needs for research and development in a systematic manner. This has not been done before and there is little evidence on which to draw. Multidisciplinary expert groups have identified priorities in different topics using explicit criteria and after widespread consultation within the NHS and research community to identify pressing problems and opportunities for research. This paper focuses on a review completed in 1993 to identify research and development priorities for the NHS in relation to the interface between primary and secondary care. The review covered several recent developments which require evaluation. The authors describe the process used to identify research and development priorities in this complex subject and examine the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. This case study should help to stimulate a wider debate on methods of identifying priorities, particularly those using participatory approaches, in research and non-research contexts.