Studies Within A Trial (SWAT) Workshop – Aberdeen, 23rd March 2017

I realised earlier in the week that I haven’t talked a huge amount about the other projects I’m involved with aside from my PhD work, so this week’s post is about a project linked, but not central to, my own research project.

Studies Within A Trial (SWATs) are smaller studies embedded within a host trial, largely they have the aim of investigating some methodological aspect of the way we conduct the trial. There are currently 46 SWATs listed on the SWAT repository, which mainly look at recruitment and retention of participants; the two most difficult parts of the trial process.

These types of study are notoriously difficult to get funding for, they’re often poorly understood by approvals and ethics bodies, and they tend to be the first thing to fall off the list of priorities for trial teams as they’re an ‘add-on’ – a bonus that’s not central to the aims of the overarching trial. On Thursday last week I attended a SWAT workshop led by my PhD Supervisor in Aberdeen. Other attendees included representatives from pharma, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Health Research Authority (HRA), researchers, clinicians, trial managers, patients and directors of UK Clinical Trials Units.

Our discussion was lively, wide-ranging and incredibly useful. We tackled the tricky aspects of how to gain approvals, how to get funding, and how to galvanise the trials community to embed the use SWATs in routine practice.

One thing that I found really valuable was the discussion with patient representatives; we had 2 ladies join us to give their opinions. They drew our attention to topics I hadn’t necessarily thought of before, and helped us work through how we might (or might not) explain this additional study to trial participants both at the beginning and end of the study.

Throughout the day I took lots of notes – scribbling away whilst different people were talking to ensure I didn’t miss key points. We ended up discussing how to make SWATs easier to do for around 6 hours so my pile of notes was pretty huge! Once I’d got home I read over my notes whilst the discussion was fresh in my head, and consolidated them into one side of A5.

I find this a really useful thing to do after a day at a conference or workshop – it helps me to summarise topics in my head and ensures I don’t just push my pile of notes to the back of my desk drawer to be forgotten about.
Does anyone else do this or is it just an excuse I’m making to get the best use out of my unhealthily large stationery collection…?

Getting involved with additional projects outside of the PhD has been so valuable for me – it’s helped to improve my time management skills, expanded my knowledge of health services research more generally, but most importantly it’s helped me build confidence. I really enjoyed the day, and found it useful to speak to people outside of my own little research group; we tend to agree on a lot of things so it’s refreshing to get a new perspective and be challenged on points I’d previously taken at face value.

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