Background: Publication and outcome reporting bias is often caused by researchers selectively choosing which scientific results and outcomes to publish. This behaviour is ethically significant as it distorts the literature used for future scientific or clinical decision-making. This study investigates the practicalities of using ethics applications submitted to a UK National Health Service (NHS) research ethics committee to monitor both types of reporting bias.
Methods: As part of an internal audit we accessed research ethics database records for studies submitting an end of study declaration to the Hampshire A research ethics committee (formerly Southampton A) between 1st January 2010 and 31st December 2011. A literature search was used to establish the publication status of studies. Primary and secondary outcomes stated in application forms were compared with outcomes reported in publications.
Results: Out of 116 studies the literature search identified 57 publications for 37 studies giving a publication rate of 32%. Original Research Ethics Committee (REC) applications could be obtained for 28 of the published studies. Outcome inconsistencies were found in 16 (57%) of the published studies.
Conclusions: This study showed that the problem of publication and outcome reporting bias is still significant in the UK. The method described here demonstrates that UK NHS research ethics committees are in a good position to detect such bias due to their unique access to original research protocols. Data gathered in this way could be used by the Health Research Authority to encourage higher levels of transparency in UK research.