"I thought I was in a big factory. A big noisy factory that used my blood to run the noisy machines all around me. I know now the factory workers were the nurses and doctors who were trying to save my life, and the machines were my life support equipment. Strange what your mind does when you are in intensive care. "
Penny, King's Critical Care patient
In critical care - also known as intensive care - we look after people with life-threatening conditions, including those on life support. Because our patients need so much attention, each nurse cares for one patient only.
Life-saving treatment is only the start of what we do though. We help seriously ill patients through the toughest times of their lives and then support them to recover and get back to their old self as much as possible. But we know we can do more to make staying in critical care better. So we are building King's Critical Care Centre and designing it to dramatically reduce the damaging effects of a stay in critical care. You can donate or fundraise to help us complete and equip the new centre and give seriously ill patients the care they need.
Waking up in critical care can be a frightening experience. Hearing is often the first sense to return, so patients may be able to hear alarms and beeps, but they won’t know what these noises mean. They may not be able to see or move. They will be on strong medication which can cause hallucinations, so they won't be able to work out what's real and what’s not. They may become frustrated - even aggressive - due to the trauma, confusion, and the unnatural feeling of staying in the same bed in the same room for weeks or months, maybe without even being able to look around.
Recovering from a life-threatening condition is a long and hard journey. So it’s not surprising that 50% of critical care patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression. So we think it's important to do more than help our patients survive. We want to reduce the damaging effects of staying in critical care and help people get back to their normal life as quickly as possible.
The Trust has one of the largest critical care services in the UK, known worldwide for excellent treatment and care. King's College Hospital provides specialist emergency cover for 5.5 million people across south east London and England, with the sickest patients being admitted through our Emergency Department and then moved to our critical care units, sometimes staying here for months.
Once a patient is out of danger, we stabilise them, help them to get better and support their rehabilitation. We often stay in touch with them after they leave hospital. So we know how tough it is for each person to get back to their old self. This is why we're building King's Critical Care Centre and designing it especially for the people with the most serious illnesses and injuries. It opens in 2018 and will revolutionise how we can treat our patients.
" The new Centre will help us do really exciting things for our patients. I can't wait to see the difference it'll make."
King's Critical Care staff nurse
Our new Critical Care Centre will be like no other. It will be the largest in the world and will do more than save lives: every part of it will be designed to reduce the damaging effects of staying in critical care, such as delirium and PTSD. To help us achieve this, we've asked former patients for their suggestions of how we can make staying in critical care better. Their ideas will help future patients do simple things that keep them involved in life beyond their hospital bed. Ultimately, it will help them recover quicker and better.
Our former patients told us they would have liked a good view while they were in hospital. So in the new building, beds will be next to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto nearby Ruskin Park. Patients will be able to see trees and open the windows so they can feel the breeze. The windows will also flood the building with natural light.
They also said they wanted to see what’s happening inside the Centre. So patients will be able to rotate their bed a full 360 degrees, enabling them to look around and choose what they view. Each bed will be surrounded by smart glass panels that can be made to turn clear, cloudy or opaque. Patients will be able to control the glass panels, so they can opt for privacy or to see what’s going on around them.
"To say goodnight to my children over the internet would have changed my whole experience of intensive care. It would have reminded me of the person I had been and what I could be again. "
Former King's Critical Care patient
Spending weeks on a critical care unit can be isolating. So to help patients stay in touch with their loved ones, we'll be giving them their own tablet connected to the internet. They will be able to use Skype and Facetime to send messages to friends, say good morning and goodnight to their children, and be part of the important things that make up everyday life, like birthdays.
Being able to go outside completely changes how critically ill patients feel, by giving them something different and positive to focus on. Staff say patients also have an increased drive to get better once they've had a chance to breathe fresh air and feel the sunlight on their faces.
So we're designing a rooftop garden which will be the world's first outdoor critical care unit. This will mean we can treat even our most severely ill patients outdoors. By using specially-designed critical care beds, outdoor power points, monitoring systems and medical gases, even patients on life support can benefit from time outside in the garden.
"Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by colour, and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect. "
The new building will include artwork throughout that's inspired by the beauty of Ruskin Park. This is just one part of our efforts to create the type of environment that promotes recovery and helps reduce the damaging effects of staying in critical care, such as anxiety. Research shows, for example, that seeing pictures of trees can make people feel less stressed.
Our doctors and nurses will be using a world-leading information system that automatically records and shows patients' vital signs. This means staff won't have to spend their valuable time recording and finding the data that they need to treat patients. Instead, it will free them up to do simple things that make a big difference, such as spending more time talking to patients and their relatives, taking patients outdoors, and helping them focus on getting better.
"When I visited George I always did the same things. I went through the same door. I bought a cup of tea at the same shop. I said hello to the pictures of the people on the wall. It was my way of keeping him alive. I thought that if I keep doing these things, he won't die. He won't leave me. This is how I did my little bit to get him back to me. "
Shirley, relative of a King's Critical Care patient
Supporting the relatives of our patients is a huge part of what we do, because life is put on hold when someone you love ends up in critical care. Our new Centre will help us do this by:
- Giving staff more time to talk things through fully with relatives and to help them understand what to expect.
- Providing a room for relatives where they can relax and have some peace and quiet. Some people spend hours every day by a patient's bedside, so having a space nearby where they can get some time to themselves is really important.
- Enabling relatives to keep in touch with patients, even when they can't be with them, thanks to patients having internet access at their bedside.
King's Critical Care Centre will allow us to help patients rebuild their lives, reduce the problems a long stay in hospital can cause and set a new global standard for treating the sickest patients. Our staff will be carrying out research to demonstrate the difference these changes make, and sharing this knowledge with hospitals throughout the world, to spread these improvements worldwide.