Cluster randomised controlled trial of screening for atrial fibrillation in people aged 70 years and over to reduce stroke: protocol for the pilot study for the SAFER trial.
BMJ Open 2023 ; 12: e065066.
Williams K, Modi RN, Dymond A, Hoare S, Powell A, Burt J, Edwards D, Lund J, Johnson R, Lobban T, Lown M, Sweeting MJ, Thom H, Kaptoge S, Fusco F, Morris S, Lip G, Armstrong N, Cowie MR, Fitzmaurice DA, Freedman B, Griffin SJ, Sutton S, Hobbs FR, McManus RJ, Mant J, Safer Authorship Group T
PubMed ID : 36691194
PMCID : PMC9472173
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common arrhythmia associated with 30% of strokes, as well as other cardiovascular disease, dementia and death. AF meets many criteria for screening, but there is limited evidence that AF screening reduces stroke. Consequently, no countries recommend national screening programmes for AF. The Screening for Atrial Fibrillation with ECG to Reduce stroke (SAFER) trial aims to determine whether screening for AF is effective at reducing risk of stroke. The aim of the pilot study is to assess feasibility of the main trial and inform implementation of screening and trial procedures.
SAFER is planned to be a pragmatic randomised controlled trial (RCT) of over 100 000 participants aged 70 years and over, not on long-term anticoagulation therapy at baseline, with an average follow-up of 5 years. Participants are asked to record four traces every day for 3 weeks on a hand-held single-lead ECG device. Cardiologists remotely confirm episodes of AF identified by the device algorithm, and general practitioners follow-up with anticoagulation as appropriate. The pilot study is a cluster RCT in 36 UK general practices, randomised 2:1 control to intervention, recruiting approximately 12 600 participants. Pilot study outcomes include AF detection rate, anticoagulation uptake and other parameters to incorporate into sample size calculations for the main trial. Questionnaires sent to a sample of participants will assess impact of screening on psychological health. Process evaluation and qualitative studies will underpin implementation of screening during the main trial. An economic evaluation using the pilot data will confirm whether it is plausible that screening might be cost-effective.
The London-Central Research Ethics Committee (19/LO/1597) and Confidentiality Advisory Group (19/CAG/0226) provided ethical approval. Dissemination will be via publications, patient-friendly summaries, reports and engagement with the UK National Screening Committee.