Why do children need Intensive Care?

Paediatric Intensive Care Units look after babies, children and teenagers who have severe and life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

We class our Intensive Care Patients as either "emergency", meaning they have been admitted because of a new severe illness or a deterioration of a chronic illness, or "elective" meaning that they are having complex or potentially dangerous surgery that is expected to stop their body's systems from working as normal for a time after the surgery.

At its simplest meaning, an Intensive Care patient is defined as someone who has a new need for specialist medicines, technical machinery and life support equipment to maintain and monitor the most basic of their bodily functions (breathing, blood circulation, kidney function, liver function, brain function etc.). Providing this intense support needs higher numbers of specialist staff than on a regular general hospital ward. 

The main goal of Intensive Care is to provide support of those bodily functions, prevent complications and allow the body to start recovering from whatever process caused the problem. Often this recovery process will continue for a long time after a person leaves Intensive Care.

Over 97% of children admitted to our unit survive but unfortunately, there are a very small number of our patients who will die, or for whom theres is no hope of a meaningful recovery. For these patients, further Intensive Care may be futile and not in the best interests of the child or young person. Each one of these situations is handled individually and sensitively with attention to the wishes of the patient and the family. We have close links with our colleagues in Palliative Care and the Children's Hospice.

We also admit a small number of "High Dependency" patients. These patients are less desperately unwell, and have less need for multiple machines, but for various reasons they still need very close watch kept on their condition. Common examples would be some patients who have had surgery involving the air passages of the nose, mouth and throat; or some patients having routine surgery who also have a severe long term neurological illness like cerebral palsy.

A tiny minority of patients never fully recover from their initial intensive care problem and they may become "technologically dependent" on machines such as portable ventilators or intravenous feeding pumps. These patients remain on the ICU until they can be transitioned to the appropriate home care team.