Your stay

Critical care

Being admitted to critical care

It can take around 1 to 2 hours to settle you into the unit. 

We'll often give you sedation (medicine to make you sleep). This is to make sure you're comfortable while on a ventilator, or getting other treatment.

What it's like in critical care

The unit can be busy, with lots of activity and noise.

Please try not to let the noise and alarms concern you. If you have any questions, your bedside nurse will explain what the noises are and the treatment and equipment we use.

When you arrive on the unit we'll give you monitoring leads and equipment. This allows staff to watch your:

  • heart rhythm
  • blood pressure
  • oxygen levels in your blood

You'll often need a lot of rest to help you recover.

We have 2 family liaison practitioners who are available to support families and friends of patients in critical care.

They are experienced critical care nurses who can provide information, communication and emotional support.

If you would like to speak to one of the family liaison practitioners, please ask the team looking after your loved one to contact them.

They are available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Your recovery

When you no longer need critical care treatment you'll leave the intensive care unit (ICU). You'll move to a high dependency unit (HDU) if you still need to be closely monitored, or to a ward.

Leaving ICU is usually a positive step. It can be difficult to adjust to no longer having one-to-one nursing. Ward staff will continue to support you in your rehabilitation. A member of our critical care team will check on you a few days after you leave ICU.

You'll usually spend time on a ward before going home. During this time our critical care team is available to provide advice and support.

We'll send a full report to your GP including any rehabilitation plan.

If you know you are going into intensive care, you may have:

In an emergency situation, decisions are only made:

  • when the whole clinical team agrees, and
  • after discussing with the person's relatives

If a person cannot make their own decision, the decision to stop treatments rests with the critical care consultant. They will involve relatives in the decision making.

If life-support treatment is stops, we'll continue to make sure the person is as comfortable as possible.

Referral to the coroner

If a patient dies unexpectedly following an operation, or if the cause of death is unclear, we may need to report this death to the coroner.  The patient's doctor will tell the next of kin when this happens and answer any questions they might have. Please visit the Ministry of Justice website for more information.

Our bereavement service

Our hospital bereavement service offers advice and support to relatives. They can tell you what you need to do after a loved one has died.

To make an appointment to see a bereavement officer, please call:

You may be too shocked to ask questions following the sudden or unexpected death of a loved one. To speak to the patient's critical care matron or doctor at a later date, please contact our critical care secretary.

  • Phone: 020 7188 3044
  • Address: 1st floor, East Wing, St Thomas' Hospital, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7EH

At home

If you have any health problems once you are home, please contact your GP.

Life after critical illness can be challenging and it's not always easy to get the help you need. We'll invite you for an appointment at our post intensive care recovery clinic. This will be 2 to 3 months after you leave hospital. 

You can also self-refer by calling 020 7185 6565 or emailing [email protected].

We have a peer support group. Former patients and families can meet each other, share their experiences and help make sense of life after critical illness. Please email [email protected] for more information.

Last updated: September 2023

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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