A randomised controlled multicentre trial of treatments for adolescent anorexia nervosa including assessment of cost-effectiveness and patient acceptability - the TOuCAN trial

Authors: Gowers SG, Clark AF, Roberts C, Byford S, Barrett B, Griffiths A, Edwards V, Bryan C, Smethurst N, Rowlands L, Roots P

Journal: Health Technology Assessment Volume: 14 Issue: 15

Publication date: March 2010

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3310/hta14150


Gowers SG, Clark AF, Roberts C, Byford S, Barrett B, Griffiths A, et al.A randomised controlled multicentre trial of treatments for adolescent anorexia nervosa including assessment of cost-effectiveness and patient acceptability - the TOuCAN trial. Health Technol Assess 2010;14(15)

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To evaluate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of inpatient compared with outpatient treatment and general (routine) treatment in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) against specialist treatment for young people with anorexia nervosa. In addition, to determine young people's and their carers' satisfaction with these treatments.


A population-based, pragmatic randomised controlled trial (RCT) was carried out on young people age 12 to 18 presenting to community CAMHS with anorexia nervosa.


Thirty-five English CAMHS in the north-west of England co-ordinated through specialist centres in Manchester and Liverpool.


Two hundred and fifteen young people (199 female) were identified, of whom 167 (mean age 14 years 11 months) were randomised and 48 were followed up as a preference group.


Randomised patients were allocated to either inpatient treatment in one of four units with considerable experience in the treatment of anorexia nervosa, a specialist outpatient programme delivered in one of two centres, or treatment as usual in general community CAMHS. The outpatient programmes spanned 6 months of treatment. The length of inpatient treatment was determined on a case-by-case basis on clinical need with outpatient follow-up to a minimum of 6 months.

Main outcome measures

Follow-up assessments were carried out at 1, 2 and 5 years. The primary outcome measure was the Morgan-Russell Average Outcome Scale (MRAOS) and associated categorical outcomes. Secondary outcome measures included physical measures of weight, height, body mass index (BMI) and % weight for height. Research ratings included the Health of the National Outcome Scale for Children and Adolescents (HoNOSCA). Self report measures comprised the user version of HoNOSCA (HoNOSCA-SR), the Eating Disorder Inventory 2 (EDI-2), the Family Assessment Device (FAD) and the recent Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ). Information on resource use was collected in interview at 1, 2 and 5 years using the Child and Adolescent Service Use Schedule (CA-SUS). Satisfaction was measured quantitatively using a questionnaire designed for the study and qualitative (free) responses on it. The questionnaire data were supplemented by qualitative analysis of user and carer focus groups.


Of the 167 patients randomised, 65% adhered to the allocated treatment. Adherence was lower for inpatient treatment (49%) than for general CAMHS (71%) or specialist outpatient treatment (77%) (p = 0.013). Every subject was traced at both 1 and 2 years, with the main outcome measure completed (through contact with the subject, family members or clinicians), by 94% at 1 year, 93% at 2 years, but only 47% at 5 years. A validated outcome category was assigned for 98% at 1 year, 96% at 2 years and 60% at 5 years. There was significant improvement in all groups at each time point, with the number achieving a good outcome being 19% at 1 year, 33% at 2 years and 64% (of those followed up) at 5 years. Analysis demonstrated no difference in treatment effectiveness of randomisation to inpatient compared with outpatient treatment, or, specialist over generalist treatment at any time point, when baseline characteristics were taken into account. Generalist CAMHS treatment was slightly more expensive over the first 2 years of the study, largely because greater numbers were subsequently admitted to hospital after the initial treatment phase. The specialist outpatient programme was the dominant treatment in terms of incremental cost-effectiveness. Specialist treatments had a higher probability of being more cost-effective than generalist treatments and outpatient treatment had a higher probability of being more cost-effective than inpatient care. Parental satisfaction with treatment was generally good, though better with specialist than generalist treatment. Young people's satisfaction was much more mixed, but again better with specialist treatment, including inpatient care.


Poor adherence to randomisation (despite initial consent to it), limits the assessment of the treatment effect of inpatient care. However, this study provides little support for lengthy inpatient psychiatric treatment on clinical or health economic grounds. These findings are broadly consistent with existing guidelines on the treatment of anorexia nervosa, which suggest that outpatient treatments should be offered to the majority, with inpatient treatment offered in rare cases, though our findings lend little support to a stepped-care approach in which inpatient care is offered to outpatient non-responders. Outpatient care, supported by brief (medical) inpatient management for correction of acute complications may be a preferable approach. The health economic analysis and user views both support NICE guidelines, which suggest that anorexia nervosa should be managed in specialist services that have experience and expertise in its management. Comprehensive general CAMHS might, however, be well placed to manage milder cases. Further research should focus on the specific components of outpatient psychological therapies. Although family-based treatments are well established, trials have not established their effectiveness compared with good-quality individual psychological therapies and the combination of individual and family approaches is untested. Further research is needed to establish which patients (if any) might respond to inpatient psychiatric treatment when unresponsive to outpatient care, the positive and negative components of it and the optimum length of stay.

Trial registration

NRR number (National Research Register) N0484056615; Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN39345394.

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