Soap car crashes 'affecting recovery' of ex-intensive care patients

A leading nurse has said recent soap car crash storylines have triggered an increase in requests for support from former intensive care patients and their families.

Fiona Hall, a senior sister on the general intensive care unit at Southampton General Hospital, warned reactions to life-threatening injuries suffered by characters Nick Tilsley in Coronation Street and Phil Mitchell in Eastenders highlighted the “desperate need” for better long-term care following hospital discharge.

“We have recently seen major storylines in popular television soaps which explicitly detail the clinical intensive care experience and emotional rollercoaster – from shock and upset, to guilt and responsibility – that many patients, their families and friends face in reality and it has had a noticeable impact,” she explained.

“A number of former patients have contacted our support group during the course of these stories to discuss how they have triggered memories of their own hospital experiences which, in some cases, happened many years ago.”

She added: “This tells us that, nationally, there is a desperate need for much more emphasis on dealing effectively with the after-effects of time spent in intensive care.” 

Earlier this year, research published in the journal Critical Care showed almost three-quarters (70%) of patients treated in intensive care units reported having moderate or severe pain a year after discharge, while 44% were significantly anxious or depressed. 

In Southampton, long-stay intensive care patients are already invited to return to a follow-up clinic run by senior nurses and consultants, where they receive emotional support alongside a review of the physical and social aspects of their recovery before being referred onto a pioneering patient-run support group. 

Heather Parsons, whose life was saved by experts in the general intensive care unit at Southampton General 11 years ago after she developed rare and aggressive soft tissue infection necrotising fasciitis, has launched a support organisation – Where there's a Will – in partnership with University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS).

As well as personally spending time on the unit five days a week running a refreshment, listening and liaison service for families of patients in intensive care, she maintains contact with many discharged patients and families through a monthly support group, along with weekly fitness and pilates sessions and a lunch club to enable participants to socialise and share stories.

In addition, the organisation has set up individual support for people with a particular need, such as trauma therapy, financial advice or specialised physiotherapy, as well as telephone and email contact, to help them continue their recovery and adjust to life at home.

“The recent increase in calls, texts and emails I've had from members of our support group explaining how vivid recreations of the full intensive care experience are prompting flashbacks and memories gives a small but pertinent insight into the long-lasting and sometimes damaging effects of an admission,” said Ms Parsons, who was recently elected to the Council of Governors at UHS.

“Our concern is that, while we are here for those facing difficulties, many other areas of the country won't have such support in place and many people will be suffering with nowhere to turn. 

“But these issues won't just disappear, so we want to raise the profile of our work and demonstrate the success of volunteers and support groups working in partnership with NHS trusts in the hope we will prompt others into action.” 

Ms Hall added: “Many people will suffer in silence thinking that they are the only ones reacting in this way and often won't even talk to their families for fear of upsetting them or, in some instances, being ridiculed.

“We are fortunate here in Southampton to have an excellent support network, but there are thousands of people out there who face ongoing psychological problems with no support mechanism in place to help them and that must change."

UHS is currently working on a study in partnership with the Intensive Care Foundation to identify and prioritise unanswered questions about adult intensive care that are important to people who have been critically ill, their friends and relatives and the health professionals who care for them. 

For more information on the study or to complete the survey, visit the Intensive Care Foundation.

Posted on Wednesday 18 September 2013