What is the impact of large-scale implementation of stroke Early Supported Discharge? A mixed methods realist evaluation study protocol

Rebecca Fisher*, Niki Chouliara, Adrian Byrne, Sarah Lewis, Peter Langhorne, Thompson Robinson, Justin Waring, Claudia Geue, Alex Hoffman, Lizz Paley, Anthony Rudd, Marion Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Stroke Early Supported Discharge (ESD) is a service innovation that facilitates discharge from hospital and delivery of specialist rehabilitation in patients' homes. There is currently widespread implementation of ESD services in many countries, driven by robust clinical trial evidence. In England, the type of ESD service patients receive on the ground is variable, and in some regions, ESD is still not offered at all. This protocol presents a study designed to investigate the mechanisms and outcomes of implementing ESD at scale in real-world conditions. This will help to establish which models of ESD are most effective and in what context. Methods: A realist evaluation approach composed of two interlinking work packages will be adopted to investigate how and why ESD works, for whom and in what circumstances. Work package 1 (WP1) will begin with a rapid evidence synthesis to formulate preliminary realist hypotheses. Quantitative analyses of historical prospective Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP) data will be performed to evaluate service outcomes based on the degree to which evidence-based ESD has been implemented. Work package 2 (WP2) will involve the qualitative investigation of purposively selected case study sites featuring in WP1 and covering different regions in England. The perspectives of clinicians, managers, commissioners, and service users will be explored qualitatively. Cost implications of ESD models will be examined using a cost-consequence analysis. Cross-case comparisons and triangulation of the data sources from both work packages will be performed to test, revise, and refine initial programme theories and address research aims. Discussion: This study will investigate whether and how current large-scale implementation of ESD is achieving the outcomes suggested by the evidence base. The theory-driven evaluation approach will highlight key mechanisms and contextual conditions necessary to optimise outcomes and allow us to draw transferable lessons to inform the effective implementation and sustainability of ESD in clinical practice. In addition, the methodological framework will progress the theoretical understanding of implementation and evaluation of complex rehabilitation interventions in stroke care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number61
JournalImplementation Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019


  • Community-based rehabilitation
  • Early Supported Discharge
  • Implementation
  • Mixed methods
  • Realist evaluation
  • Stroke


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