"improving intensive care in Scotland"

ICU admissionAdmission to critical care

Why do critical care areas exist?

Sometimes patients in hospital need a higher level of care than the general ward or emergency department can provide and they are admitted to a critical care area. Examples of these include the intensive care unit (sometimes called the ICU or the ITU, standing for the intensive therapy unit) and the high dependency unit. Most acute hospitals have such units. Here extra monitoring and more advanced treatments can be carried out, as there are more nurses, doctors and other staff with the necessary skills and equipment.

Who gets admitted and why?

Patients are admitted to such areas with many different conditions. Sometimes the admission is planned, for example after major surgery where the nature of the operation, or the patient’s other medical problems, or both, mean that they need extra care in the post-operative period. Other admissions are unplanned and may be for support after an emergency operation or major trauma, or to treat an acute life-threatening medical illness such as pneumonia or coma.

The ICU team often review the patient before admission, as not all patients will benefit from critical care. Once the decision is made to admit the patient they will be transferred as soon as possible, although sometimes stabilising treatment is performed first, and the critical care bed must be prepared. The family will be informed promptly.

Every patient’s condition is different and so the treatment they undergo is different but the underlying aim of critical care is to treat the cause of the condition and support the body’s organs that are not working properly, or are under threat, until they can work again without help. Sometimes the patient needs specialist care only available in another hospital and so they will need to be transferred there. Occasionally it is necessary to move a patient to a unit in another hospital if the first hospital’s own critical care unit is full.