A feasibility randomised trial comparing therapeutic thoracentesis to chest tube insertion for the management of pleural infection: results from the ACTion trial

David T Arnold*, Emma Tucker, Anna Morley, Alice Milne, Louise Stadon, Sonia Patole, George W Nava, Steven P Walker, Nick A Maskell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
139 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Pleural infection is a complex condition with a considerable healthcare burden. The average hospital stay for pleural infection is 14 days. Current standard of care defaults to chest tube insertion and intravenous antibiotics. There have been no randomised trials on the use of therapeutic thoracentesis (TT) for pleural fluid drainage in pleural infection.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To assess the feasibility of a full-scale trial of chest tube vs TT for pleural infection in a single UK centre. The primary outcome was defined as the acceptability of randomisation to patients.

METHODS: Adult patients admitted with a pleural effusion felt to be related to infection and meeting criteria for drainage (based on international guidelines) were eligible for randomisation. Participants were randomised (1:1) to chest tube insertion or TT with daily review assessing need for further drainages or other therapies. Neither participant nor clinician were blinded to treatment allocation. Patients were followed up at 90 days post-randomisation.

RESULTS: From September 2019 to June 2021, 51 patients were diagnosed with pleural infection (complex parapneumonic effusion/empyema). Eleven patients met the inclusion criteria for trial and 10 patients were randomised (91%). The COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on recruitment. Data completeness was high in both groups with no protocol deviations. Patients randomised to TT had a significantly shorter overall mean hospital stay (5.4 days, SD 5.1) compared to the chest tube control group (13 days, SD 6.0), p = 0.04. Total number of pleural procedures required per patient were similar, 1.2 in chest tube group and 1.4 in TT group. No patient required a surgical referral. Adverse events were similar between the groups with no readmissions related to pleural infection.

CONCLUSIONS: The ACTion trial met its pre-specified feasibility criteria for patient acceptability but other issues around feasibility of a full-scale trial remain. From the results available the hypothesis that TT can reduce length of stay in pleural infection should be explored further.


Original languageEnglish
Article number330
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pulmonary Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The trial was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Adult
  • COVID-19
  • Chest Tubes
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pleural Effusion/surgery
  • Thoracentesis
  • Treatment Outcome


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