Background: Breathlessness in advanced disease causes significant distress to patients and carers and presents management challenges to health care professionals. The Breathlessness Intervention Service (BIS) seeks to improve the care of breathless patients with advanced disease (regardless of cause) through the use of evidence-based practice and working with other healthcare providers. BIS delivers a complex intervention (of non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments) via a multi-professional team. BIS is being continuously developed and its impact evaluated using the MRC's framework for complex interventions (PreClinical, Phase I and Phase II completed). This paper presents the protocol for Phase III.
Methods/design: Phase III comprises a pragmatic, fast-track, single-blind randomised controlled trial of BIS versus standard care. Due to differing disease trajectories, the service uses two broad service models: one for patients with malignant disease (intervention delivered over two weeks) and one for patients with non-malignant disease (intervention delivered over four weeks). The Phase III trial therefore consists of two sub-protocols: one for patients with malignant conditions (four week protocol) and one for patients with non-malignant conditions (eight week protocol). Mixed method interviews are conducted with patients and their lay carers at three to five measurement points depending on randomisation and sub-protocol. Qualitative interviews are conducted with referring and non-referring health care professionals (malignant disease protocol only). The primary outcome measure is 'patient distress due to breathlessness' measured on a numerical rating scale (0-10). The trial includes economic evaluation. Analysis will be on an intention to treat basis.
Discussion: This is the first evaluation of a breathlessness intervention for advanced disease to have followed the MRC framework and one of the first palliative care trials to use fast track methodology and single-blinding. The results will provide evidence of the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the service, informing its longer term development and implementation of the model in other centres nationally and internationally. It adds to methodological developments in palliative care research where complex interventions are common but evidence sparse.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT00678405ISRCTN: ISRCTN04119516.