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Patients & Carers



NHS choices


About Critical Care    

Adult Critical Care services include both High Dependency Care (sometimes called Level 2 care) and Intensive Care (or Level 3 care). Critical Care is usually delivered in dedicated Units within the hospital called High Dependency Units (HDUs) and Intensive Care Units (ICUs, also sometimes referred to as Intensive Therapy Units(ITUs)) although in some hospitals these may be combined into a single Unit. 

Patients requiring Critical Care are usually very ill and require close attention and monitoring. The sickest patients are in ICUs and may, for example, need advanced respiratory support or have two or more organ systems (such as cardiac, neurological or respiratory etc.) that need supporting simultaneously. Most Critical Care Units in most NHS hospitals are equipped to deal with patients' suffering from a range of different clinical conditions but some hospitals do have specialist Critical Care Units dealing with particular specialisms such as oncology, neurology, cardiac, transplantation etc.

Frequently asked questions:

It is frightening to find that someone close to you has been admitted to a critical care unit, but an experienced team will work to ensure that the patient's problems are addressed while they are kept as comfortable as possible. We ask you to be patient and help us in this task.

How can I help?

First: please take care of yourself. Proper food and sleep will help you to cope with the information you will be given by the critical care team. Staying awake all night will wear you down and can make you prone to illness. Do not feel you have to be available every moment; there is always someone watching over your relative.

Second: please respect the privacy of other patients and families, and be considerate by limiting noise.
Two immediate family visitors at a time are acceptable. If circumstances demand it then the nurse in charge will allow larger numbers. When visiting ring the bell at the entrance and wait for a nurse.

Third: you must use alcohol hand rub on your hands before and after visiting. Containers of hand rub are found at the entrance and at every bed space. A nurse may ask you to wear an apron or wash your hands if special conditions apply

Can I speak to the doctor?

You should expect to speak to a Consultant for updates on any day or by appointment. Ask the nurse in charge to make this appointment for you. If possible advise other family members about these meetings but understand that in stressful situations you may not recall everything that is discussed. A useful tip is to write down your question and make a quick note of the answer especially if you then have to explain things to others.

What can I expect to see in a Critical Care Unit?

 There will be a nurse nearby who can explain the collection of tubes and equipment that you see when you come to the bedside. Please don't touch the equipment. It's generally all right to touch the patient  but check with the nurse first. Even if sedated, feel free to read to your relative, or play music to them through earphones, as it can be difficult to continue a one-way conversation.

Can my relative talk to me?

Remember speaking may be difficult or impossible for the patient depending on their therapy. The effort of communication can be tiring for some especially if there are many visitors. There will be sheets of paper for writing, or laminated cards with letters/pictures on them so that the patient can point to spell words. It is time consuming but worthwhile.

They don't seem to understand me?

Patients in the unit, although often sedated, are usually sleep deprived. As they recover, they may be confused about events or even suffer from hallucinations. We will treat their anxiety and pain but understand it takes time for drugs and the toxins associated with illness to leave the body before natural sleep returns.

The Intensive Care Unit Support Teams for ex-ICU Patients (ICUSteps) was founded in 2005 by ex-patients, their relatives and ICU staff to support patients and their families through the long road to recovery from critical illness.

Our aims are to:
support patients and relatives affected by critical illness,
promote recognition of the physical and psychological consequences of critical illness through education of the medical profession and the general public, and encourage research into treatment and the prevention of these issues. ICUSteps is the United Kingdom's only support group for people who have been affected by critical illness and has helped many former patients, their relatives and medical staff from organisations around the world