BACKGROUND: Fatigue is a major problem in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There is evidence for the clinical effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered by clinical psychologists, but few rheumatology units have psychologists.
OBJECTIVES: To compare the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a group CBT programme for RA fatigue [named RAFT, i.e. Reducing Arthritis Fatigue by clinical Teams using cognitive-behavioural (CB) approaches], delivered by the rheumatology team in addition to usual care (intervention), with usual care alone (control); and to evaluate tutors' experiences of the RAFT programme.
DESIGN: A randomised controlled trial. Central trials unit computerised randomisation in four consecutive cohorts within each of the seven centres. A nested qualitative evaluation was undertaken.
SETTING: Seven hospital rheumatology units in England and Wales.
PARTICIPANTS: Adults with RA and fatigue severity of ≥ 6 [out of 10, as measured by the Bristol Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue Numerical Rating Scale (BRAF-NRS)] who had no recent changes in major RA medication/glucocorticoids.
INTERVENTIONS: RAFT - group CBT programme delivered by rheumatology tutor pairs (nurses/occupational therapists). Usual care - brief discussion of a RA fatigue self-management booklet with the research nurse.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Primary - fatigue impact (as measured by the BRAF-NRS) at 26 weeks. Secondary - fatigue severity/coping (as measured by the BRAF-NRS); broader fatigue impact [as measured by the Bristol Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue Multidimensional Questionnaire (BRAF-MDQ)]; self-reported clinical status; quality of life; mood; self-efficacy; and satisfaction. All data were collected at weeks 0, 6, 26, 52, 78 and 104. In addition, fatigue data were collected at weeks 10 and 18. The intention-to-treat analysis conducted was blind to treatment allocation, and adjusted for baseline scores and centre. Cost-effectiveness was explored through the intervention and RA-related health and social care costs, allowing the calculation of quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) with the EuroQol-5 Dimensions, five-level version (EQ-5D-5L). Tutor and focus group interviews were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.
RESULTS: A total of 308 out of 333 patients completed 26 weeks (RAFT, n/N = 156/175; control, n/N = 152/158). At 26 weeks, the mean BRAF-NRS impact was reduced for the RAFT programme (-1.36 units; p < 0.001) and the control interventions (-0.88 units; p < 0.004). Regression analysis showed a difference between treatment arms in favour of the RAFT programme [adjusted mean difference -0.59 units, 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.11 to -0.06 units; p = 0.03, effect size 0.36], and this was sustained over 2 years (-0.49 units, 95% CI -0.83 to -0.14 units; p = 0.01). At 26 weeks, further fatigue differences favoured the RAFT programme (BRAF-MDQ fatigue impact: adjusted mean difference -3.42 units, 95% CI -6.44 to - 0.39 units, p = 0.03; living with fatigue: adjusted mean difference -1.19 units, 95% CI -2.17 to -0.21 units, p = 0.02; and emotional fatigue: adjusted mean difference -0.91 units, 95% CI -1.58 to -0.23 units, p = 0.01), and these fatigue differences were sustained over 2 years. Self-efficacy favoured the RAFT programme at 26 weeks (Rheumatoid Arthritis Self-Efficacy Scale: adjusted mean difference 3.05 units, 95% CI 0.43 to 5.6 units; p = 0.02), as did BRAF-NRS coping over 2 years (adjusted mean difference 0.42 units, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.77 units; p = 0.02). Fatigue severity and other clinical outcomes were not different between trial arms and no harms were reported. Satisfaction with the RAFT programme was high, with 89% of patients scoring ≥ 8 out of 10, compared with 54% of patients in the control arm rating the booklet (p < 0.0001); and 96% of patients and 68% of patients recommending the RAFT programme and the booklet, respectively, to others (p < 0.001). There was no significant difference between arms for total societal costs including the RAFT programme training and delivery (mean difference £434, 95% CI -£389 to £1258), nor QALYs gained (mean difference 0.008, 95% CI -0.008 to 0.023). The probability of the RAFT programme being cost-effective was 28-35% at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's thresholds of £20,000-30,000 per QALY. Tutors felt that the RAFT programme's CB approaches challenged their usual problem-solving style, helped patients make life changes and improved tutors' wider clinical practice.
LIMITATIONS: Primary outcome data were missing for 25 patients; the EQ-5D-5L might not capture fatigue change; and 30% of the 2-year economic data were missing.
CONCLUSIONS: The RAFT programme improves RA fatigue impact beyond usual care alone; this was sustained for 2 years with high patient satisfaction, enhanced team skills and no harms. The RAFT programme is < 50% likely to be cost-effective; however, NHS costs were similar between treatment arms.
FUTURE WORK: Given the paucity of RA fatigue interventions, rheumatology teams might investigate the pragmatic implementation of the RAFT programme, which is low cost.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN52709998.
FUNDING: This project was funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 23, No. 57. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.