Do I need a Letter of Access or Honorary Contract for Research?

Human Resources (HR) Arrangements for Research in the NHS

Research within the NHS is often undertaken by NHS staff not directly employed by the host NHS organisation, or by non-NHS staff, particularly researchers employed by or studying at universities. This raises issues about responsibility, accountability, patient safety and duty of care. The Research in the NHS: HR Good Practice Resource Pack describes the process for handling HR arrangements for researchers and provides a streamlined approach for confirming details of the pre-engagement checks they have undergone with the NHS.

Letters of Access (LOA)/Honorary Research Contract (HRC)

The HRA will determine whether you need an LOA or HRC as part of the governance review and approval – please refer to the HR Good Practice Resource Pack Expectations section of the study HRA Approval Letter. This is dependent on what research activities you will be undertaking and where. For example, for patient contact outside a care setting researchers may not need a letter of access (e.g. if patients identified by Participation Identification Centres (PICs) are then seen at a university for study procedures).

We facilitate appropriate access for research at GP practices across CRN East of England, the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C) and East Coast Community Healthcare CIC (ECCH).

Do I need a research passport?

A research passport is the mechanism for non-NHS staff to obtain an Honorary Research Contract or Letter of Access (LOA) when they propose to carry out research in the NHS.

The research passport algorithm will help you assess whether you need an LOA or HRC. If your study involves contact with patients in a care setting or using identifiable data then it is likely you will need an LOA. If your study involves providing health care, or is likely to have a direct bearing on the quality of care, an HRC may be required.

    • Higher Education Institute (HEI)/University employed researchers and students may need to apply for a Research Passport (RP) (see exceptions below). The form and guidance on completion are available from the HR Good Practice Resource Pack. Requirements for a criminal record check and occupational health clearance are also indicated on the research passport algorithm. The criminal record check must be applied for by the HEI employer through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and should be applied for promptly to avoid delay.

You will not need a research passport if you are:

    • employed by NHS organisation (including independent contractors e.g. GP) or you are a clinical academic (with honorary clinical contract with NHS Trust). You may need to complete an NHS to NHS confirmation of pre-engagement checks form to undertake research activities at other NHS organisations. The form is available from the HR Good Practice Resource Pack.

    • undergraduate and postgraduate students who conduct research as part of their healthcare placements (e.g. UEA Clinical Psychology Doctoral students undertaking placements at Norfolk Community Health and Care) The research activities for a student on a healthcare placement will come under the memorandum of understanding between the HEI and the NHS organisation which governs healthcare placements. Therefore, students conducting research as part of their healthcare placements are not issued with HRCs or letters of access by the NHS organisation.

Applying for an LOA or HRC

Please contact us at if you wish to apply for an LOA/HRC for primary care sites across CRN East of England and/or for NCH&C and ECCH.

Please submit the following documents:

    • Valid research passport or NHS to NHS confirmation of engagement checks as appropriate (see above);

    • A copy of a current CV (see template);

    • Certificates for Criminal Record Disclosure and Occupational Health Checks may be required if your Research Passport has not yet been validated by an NHS organisation.