SWATted away: The challenging experience of setting up a programme of SWATs in paediatric trials

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Background: Randomised controlled trials are considered the best method for determining the effectiveness and safety of health interventions. Trials involving children are essential to ensure that treatments are safe and effective. However, many trials, in both adult and paediatric populations, do not achieve recruitment targets and/or maintain retention of participants, which can lead to a reduction in the internal and external validity of the results. Identifying ways of improving trial efficiency are important in order to increase the successful completion of trials. Main body: A 'Study Within A Trial' (SWAT) is a self-contained study embedded within an ongoing trial, which aims to establish evidence to improve the management and delivery of trials in healthcare. Increasing numbers of SWATs have been undertaken in recent years yet very few within paediatric trials. Herein, we describe some of the challenges with undertaking a programme of SWATs within paediatric clinical trials in the UK. The TRECA (TRials Engagement in Children and Adolescents) study involves developing multimedia websites for use within paediatric trials to provide recruitment information to children, young people and their families about the clinical trial. Challenges encountered included governance issues such as host trial approval processes and sharing of anonymised data, funding issues for host trials, internet quality and accessibility within the healthcare setting, and ethical concerns associated with SWAT methodology. We believe the ethical concerns are more pronounced in the paediatric setting, perhaps because of the fewer SWATs undertaken in these settings or that a more cautious, risk-averse approach to undertaking research with children is taken. Conclusion: SWATs are becoming increasingly common to provide an evidence base for methods to improve trial efficiency. However, we encountered a number of unanticipated challenges to embedding TRECA that have not been previously reported within the scientific literature. We believe that, if these issues were addressed through wider promotion and explanation of undertaking SWATs involving all key stakeholders, as well as by exploration of alternative funding models for SWATs, this would enable more streamlined, appropriate and timely processes for SWATs and a stronger evidence base for what works to increase trial efficiency.




Martin-Kerry, J., Parker, A., Bower, P., Watt, I., Treweek, S., Torgerson, D., … Knapp, P. (2019). SWATted away: The challenging experience of setting up a programme of SWATs in paediatric trials. Trials, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-019-3236-4

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