What is Critical Illness?

Doctors and nurses working on an ICU regard a critically ill patient as someone who has been admitted to hospital and has developed a severe form of one or more 'organ failures'. This could be, for example:-

  • a patient who has collapsed and is unconscious

  • a patient who has low blood pressure from a severe infection

  • a patient who has developed kidney failure needing dialysis

  • a patient who needs a ventilator to assist with breathing

Such patients are at risk of further deterioration and require early, expert multidisciplinary care to provide the best possible outcome. This is best provided on a critical care environment where there are higher numbers of doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals to provide the care required.

Most patients improve rapidly after treatment and can be discharged back to ward level care in less than a week. Some patients require several weeks or even months within critical care before they reach that stage. Some patients will not survive, and in this situation we always aim to provide the best possible end of life care.

Not everyone admitted to a critical care unit is 'critically ill'. Sometimes we admit patients post-operatively who the team have classified as 'high risk' due to either the nature of the surgery or their poor pre-existing health.

For more information about critical illness and the support networks that are available for patients and their families around the country, please visit the ICU Steps site.