Equality, diversity, and inclusion in oncology clinical trials: an audit of essential documents and data collection against INCLUDE under-served groups in a UK academic trial setting.
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BACKGROUND: Clinical trials should be as inclusive as possible to facilitate equitable access to research and better reflect the population towards which any intervention is aimed. Informed by the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Innovations in Clinical Trial Design and Delivery for the Under-served (INCLUDE) guidance, we audited oncology trials conducted by the Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR-CTSU) to identify whether essential documents were overtly excluding any groups and whether sufficient data were collected to assess diversity of trial participants from groups suggested by INCLUDE as under-served by research in the UK. METHODS: Thirty cancer clinical trials managed by ICR-CTSU and approved between 2011-2021 were audited. The first ethics approved version of each trial's protocol, patient information sheet, and patient completed questionnaire, together with the first case report forms (CRFs) version were reviewed. A range of items aligned with the INCLUDE under-served groups were assessed, including age, sex and gender, socio-economic and health factors. The scope did not cover trial processes in participating hospitals. RESULTS: Data relating to participants' age, ethnic group and health status were well collected and no upper age limit was specified in any trials' eligibility criteria. 23/30 (77%) information sheets used at least one gendered term to address patients. Most CRFs did not specify whether they were collecting sex or gender and only included male or female categories. The median reading age for information sheets was 15-16 years (IQR: 14-15 - 16-17). Socio-economic factors were not routinely collected and not commonly mentioned in trial protocols. CONCLUSIONS: No systemic issues were identified in protocols which would explicitly prevent any under-served group from participating. Areas for improvement include reducing use of gendered words and improving readability of patient information. The challenge of fully assessing adequate inclusion of under-served populations remains, as socio-economic factors are not routinely collected because they fall beyond the data generally required for protocol-specified trial endpoint assessments. This audit has highlighted the need to agree and standardise demographic data collection to permit adequate monitoring of the under-served groups identified by the NIHR.
Clin Trials & Stats Unit
BMC Medical Ethics,