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Visiting a patient in critical care

Monitoring and treating patients with life-threatening conditions

General visiting guidance

For visiting times and the number of visitors in critical care, please read the guidance on our main visiting page

We have visiting rules to reduce the spread of infection, and to keep patients, visitors and staff safe. Read more about what to do when you visit.

When a patient is admitted to critical care

Once it has been decided that your friend or relative will need to be cared for in intensive care, it can take around 1 to 2 hours to settle them into the unit. 

Sedation (medicine to make the patient sleep) is often given to make sure that patients are comfortable while on the ventilator or getting other treatment.

Connecting with your friend or relative in critical care 

Visiting a patient who is critically unwell in one of our units can be stressful for family and friends. The patient is most often unaware of what is happening around them.

However, we have found that people often feel better if they able to participate in their relative's care.

We think that hearing is one of the first senses to recover after sedation or a period of unconsciousness. This is why doctors and nurses explain to patients, even when they are unconscious, what they are about to do.

Some people find it comforting to talk to the patient but do not be afraid or embarrassed. No one knows whether a loved one can hear you or not at a particular time, but it can help you to retain a connection to them.

You might want to try:

  • reading to the patient a favourite book or newspaper
  • chatting about daily events or other family members at home

Please ask the nurse looking after your friend or relative first.

What it's like in critical care

The unit can be a busy environment, with lots of activity and noise. Please try not to be concerned by any of the noise and alarms.

If you have any questions, the bedside nurse will explain what the noises are and the treatment and equipment we use.

  • Lines and procedures

    All patients have monitoring leads and equipment put on them when they arrive on the unit. This allows staff to closely watch their heart rhythm, blood pressure and oxygen levels in their blood.

    The person you care about is likely to look very different to how they would normally look and may have:

    • lots of equipment attached to them
    • a breathing tube in their mouth which is attached to a ventilator (a 'breathing machine')
    • a swollen face or limbs
    • been sedated and therefore be sleepy or drowsy

    Despite the sedation, many patients respond to reassurance, such as a familiar voice or hand holding. The bedside nurse will make sure that you are able to be with the patient without disturbing any of the monitoring equipment. They can also explain any of the equipment and why it is needed.

    Our patients often need a lot of rest to help them recover. If a rest period has been set up for them we will ask you not to visit at this time.

  • Support, facilities and accommodation

    Support

    The hospital has a multi-faith, spiritual care team who are available 24 hours a day. If you would like their involvement, the bedside nurse can contact the team for you.

    We know that having a relative or friend in critical care can be a very stressful experience. It is important to make sure you get enough rest and eat properly so that you do not become unwell yourself.

    In certain circumstances we are able to provide overnight accommodation for the patient's next of kin. For more information please see the accommodation page or speak to the nurse in charge.

    Facilities for you

    The visitors' room has a toilet and a drinks machine. See our pages on other shops and facilities at Guy's Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital.

  • Help us to reduce infections

    Hand washing

    Critically ill patients have a high risk of getting an infection. To lower this risk we ask visitors to clean their hands when they enter and leave the unit by using the spray foam, alcohol gel or by washing their hands. For more information see our hand washing page.

    Aprons

    You will be asked to wear a plastic apron at the bedside. This should be placed in the yellow bin at the bedside after use.

    Isolation rooms

    Some patients are at higher risk of infection than others, or have an infection that specifically needs isolating. These areas are restricted to close family and friends only. You will be asked to take extra precautions in these rooms, such as wearing a mask or washing your hands using soap and water.

    Staff uniforms

    Staff wear raspberry coloured uniforms ('scrubs'), aprons and gloves and must always clean their hands before and after caring for patients.

Advanced Directives (living wills)

If the patient has made an advance directive (sometimes known as a 'living will') please make staff aware of this as soon as possible so that we can respect the patient's wishes.

Recovery

See the recovery page for information about rehabilitation, when patients no longer need critical care. Also see our information for when recovery is not possible.