Effects of EU harmonization policies on national public supervision of clinical trials: A dynamic cycle of institutional change and institutional work

Health Policy. 2017 Sep;121(9):971-977. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2017.06.008. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


Background: The EU Clinical Trials Directive (EUCTD) and the EU Clinical Trials Regulation aim to harmonize good clinical practice (GCP) of clinical trials across Member States. Using the Netherlands as a case study, this paper analyzes how endeavours to implement the EUCTD set in motion a dynamic process of institutional change and institutional work. This process lead to substantial differences between policy and actual practice; therefore, it is important to learn more about the implementation of harmonization policies.

Methods: Relevant documents, such as legal texts and previous research, were analyzed. Interviews were conducted with stakeholders in clinical trials and inspectors from (inter)national supervisory bodies (n=33), and Dutch Health Care Inspectorate inspections were observed (n=4).

Results: Dutch legislators' efforts to implement the EUCTD created a new level of governance in an already multilevel legislative framework. Institutional layering caused a complex and fragmented organizational structure in public supervision, leading to difficulties in achieving GCP. This instigated institutional work by actors, which set in motion further incremental institutional change, principally drift and conversion.

Conclusions: Harmonization processes can create dynamic cycles between institutional change and institutional work, leading to significant divergence from the intended effects of legislation. If legislation intended to strengthen harmonization is not carefully implemented, it can become counterproductive to its aims.

Keywords: Clinical trials; Good clinical practice (GCP); Harmonization; Institutional change; Institutional work; Public supervision.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / organization & administration
  • European Union / organization & administration
  • Guideline Adherence / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Netherlands
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence