Dr Anton Krige: A randomised controlled trial of thoracic epidural analgesia versus rectus sheath catheters for open midline incisions in major abdominal surgery within an Enhanced Recovery Program (TERSC)

Dr Anton Krige, a Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia as well as the Clinical lead for the Enhanced Recovery Programs at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, has a particular interest in providing good pain relief to patients after major surgery so that patients can recover quickly and avoid post-operative complications.

Dr Krige approached the RDS NW for advice on how to develop his research idea of comparing the most common approach of pain relief – epidural, and another approach – Rectus Sheath Catheters (RSCs). Epidurals, which use a fine tube being placed in the spine through which local anaesthetic is given, numbing the nerve supply to the abdomen and controlling the pain, can be very effective but they do have a number of possible side effects including common side effects such as headaches and low blood pressure as well as very rare side effects such as nerve injury.

The Rectus Sheath Catheters can be used when surgery involves a midline (vertical) incision of the abdomen. In this technique, local anaesthetic is infused directly into the abdominal wall, blocking the nerves around the wound site. An old technique, RSCs are now in use again as ultrasound allows doctors to site the catheters accurately between the muscle layers of the abdomen.

Many of the side effects associated with epidurals do not apply to rectus sheath catheters and this may confer an advantage. However, no formal research had been conducted and so it is not known for sure which technique results in the best pain relief with the least side effects. This is the question that the TERSC research study aims to answer.

Dr Krige approached the RDS NW for general advice on how to apply for the RfPB programme and was allocated an adviser who initially explored the options for the appropriate research study design to develop to answer Dr Krige’s research questions. The adviser brought on board other methodological advisers as required in clinical trial design, qualitative methods and health economics.

Dr Krige and his team attended a dedicated advice support programme organised by the RDS NW for applicants to the RfPB programme.

The RDS NW also provided advice on how to develop the proposal further with PPI and these activities were supported by the RDS NW PPI bursary to facilitate the bringing together of past patients who had undergone such surgery in the past to advise on the most appropriate design and study materials ahead of a submission for RfPB funding.

Some of these patients have since agreed to stay with the project by being involved in managing and delivering the study now that patients are being recruited into the TERSC study.

This is the first research grant that Dr Krige has been awarded in his role as a hospital consultant.

The RDS NW were able to recommend other research methodologists who may be interested in supporting the application for funding and becoming co-applicants.