Mike Grocott

City doctors climb Everest to improve care for critically ill patients

Medical and research staff at UHS have climbed the world’s highest mountain for the second time to help improve care for critically ill hospital patients.

Led by Professor Mike Grocott, a consultant in critical care at Southampton General Hospital, a team of experts trekked to Everest base camp in Nepal to investigate the effects of lack of oxygen to the body’s vital organs, which is known as hypoxia.

The expedition, which followed the group’s original Caudwell Xtreme Everest trip in 2007, saw intensive care doctors, nurses and scientists simulate the experience of intensive care with low oxygen levels by conducting experiments on themselves at high altitude in harsh conditions.

In addition, they recruited a group of volunteers which included identical twins, children and the Sherpa people who live in the mountainous region, to enable them to compare results in children and adults and understand how Sherpas live in such an environment.

One in five people in the UK will end up in intensive care at some point in their life and, of those, 40% will die. But, despite intensive care being one of the most sophisticated areas of hospital care, it is still not known why some people survive and others don’t.

By understanding more about how humans adapt to hypoxia, the team hope to lead the development of new treatments for critically ill patients who suffer a similar challenge in hospital.

Prof Grocott, who is also a professor of anaesthetics and critical care at the University of Southampton, said: “The oxygen levels on the summit are a third of those at sea level – similar to what a patient in intensive care would experience, which is why this environment offered us an excellent opportunity to conduct vital research.

“Exposing ourselves to such low levels of oxygen and analysing how we respond allowed us to understand what a patient goes through and adapt our intensive care setting accordingly. We hope, as a result, we are able to reduce the number of deaths in intensive care.”

He added: “This was a unique experiment involving a lot of people, many of them volunteers, but extreme illnesses require cutting edge research to provide solutions and we hope the results of this trip will lead to improvements for our patients.”

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