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Resource type: Article

Keeping up to date

Who can I ask about my loved one's condition?

COVID-19 has meant that hospitals have restricted visiting to protect patients, their family, friends and staff. This means that the way you can communicate with Intensive Care Unit staff has changed. You can no longer communicate face-to-face with the nurses and doctors caring for your loved one, and you can’t visit the Unit.

ICUs around the country have set up different systems to communicate with families, depending on how busy they are and what resources they have. Some Units have formed family communication teams. These teams may include doctors, nurses or other staff that don’t usually work in Intensive Care, but have been given specific training in how to update family and friends.

When your loved one is admitted to Intensive Care, a member of staff (usually a doctor or nurse) will call the patient's closest family member, usually within 24 hours. She/he will be able to explain things to you in easily understandable language and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

We do understand that having a loved one in Intensive Care can be very upsetting and that it can sometimes be difficult to remember what you've been told. Please don't be afraid to ask (the same) questions. It might also help to write things down.

During this call, you will be given information as to how to contact the Unit and when and how the ICU staff will contact you. Please do ask about how to contact the Unit and how you will be contacted, if this information is not provided.

Most Units will request that only one member of a member is the central point of contact for calls. You may be asked to give a password (something that is memorable to you and your family) that can be used to help staff know they are speaking with the correct family member/friend during future calls when calls. Please write this down so you remember it, but please don’t share this with other family and friends.

Will someone phone me if something goes wrong?

Yes. A member of the ICU team (usually a doctor or nurse) will phone the patient's closest family member (although sometimes this might be a close friend or estranged partner), in the event of a serious deterioration in your loved one's condition. It can sometimes be very difficult for us to work out who this person should be, so please help us by letting us know who we should contact.

How will I know what’s happening on a day-to-day basis?

You will receive update calls from a member of the Intensive Care or the Family Communication team. These calls may be over the phone or via a video connection.

Can I speak with the doctors?

Of course, however this will need to be arranged and will be done over the phone or in some cases, using a video connection. Please ask for this to be arranged. Let the person making the call know if you would like to speak to the Consultant overseeing your family member’s care, or whether you would be happy to speak with one of the other doctors. It might help you to write down any questions you would like to ask, before you speak with him or her. Please be aware that there may be sometimes be unavoidable delays in speaking with the doctors, especially if the Unit is very busy or if there is an emergency elsewhere.

Phoning the Intensive Care Unit

Please be aware the availability of staff to answer you calls may be limited. You may be asked not to phone the Unit at specific times of the day or night. Please be aware that, for reasons of patient confidentiality, we may be able to give only limited or very general information about your loved one's condition.

 Keeping others up to date

Having a family member in Intensive Care can be both distressing and exhausting. You may find that your phone never stops ringing, especially if you have a large circle of family and friends enquiring after your loved one's condition. You might find it helpful to nominate someone to keep everyone else informed on your behalf. Some people find it helpful to do this by email or posting general updates on things like Facebook. Doing these kinds of things will help limit the number of calls to the unit and therefore reduce interruptions to patient care. We thank you for your understanding.