Objective The success of pharmacological randomised controlled trials (RCTs) depends on the recruitment of the required number of participants. Recruitment to RCTs for patients with cirrhosis and small oesophageal varices raises specific additional challenges. The objectives of the study were 1) to explore patient perspectives on factors that influence RCT recruitment, 2) to understand factors that influence the success of recruitment from a staff perspective, and 3) to identify opportunities for tailored interventions to improve trial recruitment in this context. Methods The qualitative study was embedded in a multi-centre blinded RCT (BOPPP trial) and was conducted alongside site opening. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients who enrolled to participate in the trial (n = 13), patients who declined to take part (n = 5), and staff who were responsible for recruiting participants to the trial (n = 18). An open approach to data collection and analysis was adopted and the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) was used to provide a theoretical lens through which to view influences on behaviour. Data was analysed using thematic analysis. Results The findings consist of 5 overarching themes that outline trial recruitment influences at the patient, staff, team, organisational and trial levels: I) patient risks and benefits ii) staff attitudes, knowledge and capacity, iii) team-based approach, iv) organisational context and v) Trial collective. Patient-generated themes map onto thirteen of the fourteen TDF domains and staff-generated themes map onto all TDF domains. The overarching themes are not mutually exclusive; with evidence of direct interactions between patient and staff-level themes that influence recruitment behaviours. Conclusions This study uses a theory-informed approach to gain new insights into improving clinical trial recruitment for patients with cirrhosis and small oesophageal varices. Although people with cirrhosis often display decreased healthcare-seeking behaviours, we found that patients used research to empower themselves to improve their health. Pragmatic trials involving unpredictable populations require staff expertise in building trust, and a deep knowledge of the patient group and their vulnerabilities. RCT recruitment is also more successful when research visits align with what staff identified as the natural rhythm of care.