FEATURE9 January 2023

Safeguarding: How to protect vulnerable research participants

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Julie Corney, standards and compliance manager at MRS, writes about how to protect vulnerable participants in light of the cost-of-living crisis. 

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The MRS Codeline advisory service, which advises members on all aspects of the code and guidelines, has noticed a growing number of enquiries seeking assistance on vulnerable participants. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this trend began during the pandemic lockdowns, and now continues with participants referencing financial hardship, such as the current cost-of-living crisis, as adversely affecting their mental health.

Participant vulnerability is a complex, dynamic state that can affect anyone at any time for many different reasons. All participants are different, with a wide range of needs, abilities and personal circumstances. These differences can place some in a position of vulnerability or greater risk of harm.

Some people’s ability to participate effectively in the research may be affected by certain individual characteristics. These can be short- or long-term, might fluctuate over time, and may not be obvious. Participants may be vulnerable because their competence to give informed consent is uncertain, because socially they are in a position where it is difficult for ...