Patients & Carers
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,
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
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
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
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
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