Background Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for selected patients with heart failure, but questions remain over its effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and uptake in a real world setting. This paper describes the design, rationale and recruitment for a randomised controlled trial that will explore the effectiveness and uptake of a predominantly home-based exercise rehabilitation programme, as well as its cost-effectiveness and patient acceptability. Methods/design Randomised controlled trial comparing specialist heart failure nurse care plus a nurse-led predominantly home-based exercise intervention against specialist heart failure nurse care alone in a multiethnic city population, served by two NHS Trusts and one primary care setting, in the United Kingdom. 169 English speaking patients with stable heart failure, defined as systolic impairment (ejection fraction ≤ 40%). with one or more hospital admissions with clinical heart failure or New York Heart Association (NYHA) II/III within previous 24-months were recruited. Main outcome measures at 1 year: Minnesota Living with Heart Failure Questionnaire, incremental shuttle walk test, death or admission with heart failure or myocardial infarction, health care utilisation and costs. Interviews with purposive samples of patients to gain qualitative information about acceptability and adherence to exercise, views about their treatment, self-management of their heart failure and reasons why some patients declined to participate. The records of 1639 patients managed by specialist heart failure services were screened, of which 997 (61%) were ineligible, due to ejection fraction>40%, current NYHA IV, no admission or NYHA II or more within the previous 2 years, or serious co-morbidities preventing physical activity. 642 patients were contacted: 289 (45%) declined to participate, 183 (39%) had an exclusion criterion and 169 (26%) agreed to randomisation. Discussion Due to safety considerations for home-exercise less than half of patients treated by specialist heart failure services were eligible for the study. Many patients had co-morbidities preventing exercise and others had concerns about undertaking an exercise programme
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