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Surgical fixation compared with cast immobilisation for adults with a bicortical fracture of the scaphoid waist: the SWIFFT RCT

Dias, Joseph; Brealey, Stephen; Cook, Liz; Fairhurst, Caroline; Hinde, Sebastian; Leighton, Paul; Choudary, Surabhi; Costa, Matthew; Hewitt, Catherine; Hodgson, Stephen; Jefferson, Laura; Jeyapalan, Kanagaratnam; Keding, Ada; Northgraves, Matthew; Palmer, Jared; Rangan, Amar; Richardson, Gerry; Taub, Nicholas; Tew, Garry; Thompson, John; Torgerson, David


Joseph Dias

Stephen Brealey

Liz Cook

Caroline Fairhurst

Sebastian Hinde

Paul Leighton

Surabhi Choudary

Matthew Costa

Catherine Hewitt

Stephen Hodgson

Laura Jefferson

Kanagaratnam Jeyapalan

Ada Keding

Jared Palmer

Amar Rangan

Gerry Richardson

Nicholas Taub

Garry Tew

John Thompson

David Torgerson


Participants: Adults (aged ≥ 16 years) presenting within 2 weeks of injury with a clear, bicortical fracture of the scaphoid waist on plain radiographs. Interventions: Early surgical fixation using Conformité Européenne-marked headless compression screws. Below-elbow cast immobilisation for 6–10 weeks and urgent fixation of confirmed non-union.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome and end point was the Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation total score at 52 weeks, with a clinically relevant difference of 6 points. Secondary outcomes included Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation pain and function subscales, Short Form questionnaire 12-items, bone union, range of movement, grip strength, complications and return to work.

Results: The mean age of 439 participants was 33 years; 363 participants were male (83%) and 269 participants had an undisplaced fracture (61%). The primary analysis was on 408 participants with valid Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation outcome data for at least one post-randomisation time point (surgery, n = 203 of 219; cast, n = 205 of 220). There was no clinically relevant difference in the Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation total score at 52 weeks: the mean score in the cast group was 14.0 (95% confidence interval 11.3 to 16.6) and in the surgery group was 11.9 (95% confidence interval 9.2 to 14.5), with an adjusted mean difference of –2.1 in favour of surgery (95% confidence interval –5.8 to 1.6; p = 0.27). The non-union rate was low (surgery group, n = 1; cast group, n = 4). Eight participants in the surgery group had a total of 11 reoperations and one participant in the cast group required a reoperation for non-union. The base-case economic analysis at 52 weeks found that surgery cost £1295 per patient more (95% confidence interval £1084 to £1504) than cast treatment. The base-case analysis of a lifetime-extrapolated model confirmed that the cast treatment pathway was more cost-effective. The nested qualitative study identified patients’ desire to have a ‘sense of recovering’, which surgeons should address at the outset.

Limitation: There were 17 participants who had initial cast treatment and surgery for confirmed non-union, which in 14 cases was within 6 months from randomisation and in three cases was after 6 months. Three of the four participants in the cast group who had a non-union at 52 weeks were not offered surgery.

Conclusions: Adult patients with an undisplaced or minimally displaced scaphoid waist fracture should have cast immobilisation and suspected non-unions immediately confirmed and urgently fixed. Patients should be followed up at 5 years to investigate the effect of partial union, degenerative arthritis, malunion and screw problems on their quality of life.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN67901257.


Dias, J., Brealey, S., Cook, L., Fairhurst, C., Hinde, S., Leighton, P., …Torgerson, D. (2020). Surgical fixation compared with cast immobilisation for adults with a bicortical fracture of the scaphoid waist: the SWIFFT RCT. Health Technology Assessment, 24(52), 1-234.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 29, 2019
Publication Date 2020-10
Deposit Date May 16, 2019
Publicly Available Date Nov 2, 2020
Journal Health technology assessment (Winchester, England)
Print ISSN 1366-5278
Electronic ISSN 2046-4924
Publisher NIHR Journals Library
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 52
Pages 1-234
Keywords Health Policy
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Free to read: This content has been made freely available to all.; Contractual start date: 4-2013; Editorial review begun: 5-2018; Accepted for publication: 3-2019


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Copyright Statement
© Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2020. This work was produced by Dias et al. under the terms of a commissioning
contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of
private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that
suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for
commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation,
Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.

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