Critical care patients

In critical care - also known as intensive care - we look after people with serious and life-threatening conditions, including those on life support. Our patients need constant monitoring and treatment by specially trained staff using specialised equipment.

Because our patients need so much attention, each nurse cares for one patient only. They will also be treated by a range of critical care specialists including doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists, technicians, speech therapists, and dietitians.

Our Critical Care Units

We have five Critical Care Units (CCUs); four for adults and one for children:

Each CCU is made up of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), for patients who need the most monitoring and care, and a High Dependency Unit (HDU), for patients who need less monitoring.

How do patients come into a CCU?

Some admissions to a CCU are planned, usually after major surgery. But most patients are admitted as an emergency.

What to expect on a CCU

Patients are reviewed by nurses and doctors much more often than on a normal hospital ward because their state can change very quickly. They may have both good and bad days while they are on the unit; and can appear to get better one minute and then be worse the next. This is quite normal when someone is critically ill.

Patients may take a long time to get better and their recovery can be complicated and hard to predict. They may also behave out of character while they are critically ill. They may not know where they are, be aggressive, paranoid, and have hallucinations and nightmares. This is normal and usually caused by their illness or the medication they have been given to keep them comfortable and without pain. We will do our best to minimise their distress and keep them safe if they have these problems.

CCUs can be noisy but we try to keep noise to a minimum. For example, some of the machines have alarms which let staff know that something – such as a change of drip – needs doing. This helps us to keep a close watch on all patients at all times and to ensure they are getting the care they need.

Leaving a CCU

As patients get better they may be moved to a different part of the CCU. A physiotherapist will probably give them exercises to help strengthen their muscles and get them moving around again. They are likely to be very weak and get tired easily.

When a patient is well enough they will be discharged from the CCU to another, very different, ward. This can be a difficult time for patients because they may no longer have the one-to-one nursing they had on the CCU, and it may take time to adjust to this.

Pathfinder group

We run a group called Pathfinder for people who have had experience of critical care, either at King's or at other hospitals. It is open to former critical care patients and their relatives. The group is involved in a number of projects, including advising on the design of our new King's Critical Care Centre, which opens in 2018.