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    Complex and alternate consent pathways in clinical trials: methodological and ethical challenges encountered by underserved groups and a call to action

    Russell, Amy, Shepherd, Victoria, Woolfall, Kerry, Young, Bridget, Gillies, Katie, Volkmer, Anna, Jayes, Mark ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0371-7811, Huxtable, Richard, Perkins, Alexander, Noor, Nurulamin, Nickolls, Beverley and Wade, Julia (2023) Complex and alternate consent pathways in clinical trials: methodological and ethical challenges encountered by underserved groups and a call to action. Trials, 24 (151). pp. 1-12. ISSN 1745-6215

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    Background: Informed consent is considered a fundamental requirement for participation in trials, yet obtaining consent is challenging in a number of populations and settings. This may be due to participants having communication or other disabilities, their capacity to consent fluctuates or they lack capacity, or in emergency situations where their medical condition or the urgent nature of the treatment precludes seeking consent from either the participant or a representative. These challenges, and the subsequent complexity of designing and conducting trials where alternative consent pathways are required, contribute to these populations being underserved in research. Recognising and addressing these challenges is essential to support trials involving these populations and ensure that they have an equitable opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, research. Given the complex nature of these challenges, which are encountered by both adults and children, a cross-disciplinary approach is required. Discussion: A UK-wide collaboration, a sub-group of the Trial Conduct Working Group in the MRC-NIHR Trial Methodology Research Partnership, was formed to collectively address these challenges. Members are drawn from disciplines including bioethics, qualitative research, trials methodology, healthcare professions, and social sciences. This commentary draws on our collective expertise to identify key populations where particular methodological and ethical challenges around consent are encountered, articulate the specific issues arising in each population, summarise ongoing and completed research, and identify targets for future research. Key populations include people with communication or other disabilities, people whose capacity to consent fluctuates, adults who lack the capacity to consent, and adults and children in emergency and urgent care settings. Work is ongoing by the sub-group to create a database of resources, to update NIHR guidance, and to develop proposals to address identified research gaps. Conclusion: Collaboration across disciplines, sectors, organisations, and countries is essential if the ethical and methodological challenges surrounding trials involving complex and alternate consent pathways are to be addressed. Explicating these challenges, sharing resources, and identifying gaps for future research is an essential first step. We hope that doing so will serve as a call to action for others seeking ways to address the current consent-based exclusion of underserved populations from trials.

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