New intensive care transfer service set up for south west

People who are critically ill with COVID-19 and other illnesses are being safely moved between intensive care units (ICUs) across the South West under a new service.

Experts across the region have set it up to rapidly transfer adult patients from over capacity units to less busy ones, as well as between units in local hospitals and specialist treatment centres.

In less than four weeks, the service has safely moved 26 patients, using dedicated ambulances with mobile intensive care equipment and staff.

Our Trust is part of the South West Critical Care Network (SWCCN) Transfer service, which is a collaborative partnership of critical care departments across the region.

NHS England and NHS Improvement Specialised Commissioning Medical Director for the South West, Dr Peter Wilson, said: “This is an excellent example of how in just a few weeks the NHS has hugely changed how it works to respond to the pandemic.

“It will improve care for people with COVID-19 meaning that patients who require critical care transfer anywhere in the South West consistently get it safely and quickly whenever and wherever they need it."

South West Critical Care Network Transfer service lead Dr Scott Grier, said: "This is a truly game-changing service and has the potential to improve the journeys of around 2,000 of the most critically unwell patients in the South West this year, ensuring they are transferred between hospitals rapidly and safely and with ongoing excellent intensive care en-route.”

For many years, critically ill babies and children have been transferred by dedicated transfer teams. However, adult intensive care transfers in England have been largely undertaken by general ambulance teams with variable experience and training, provided by the transferring hospital and using a 999 ambulance.

As a result, NHS England and The South West Critical Care Network started planning to develop a permanent adult critical care transfer service for the South West, a project that was expected to take at least 12-18 months.

However, in just a few weeks a temporary transfer service has been rapidly developed by managers and clinicians across the region as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought into sharp relief the requirement for high-quality, efficient, safe and effective transfer of critically ill patients between intensive care units.

The South West Critical Care Network and NHS England and NHS Improvement are planning to introduce permanent service for the long term, beyond COVID-19.

Dr Fiona Dempsey, our critical care consultant, said:

“The network enables our clinical services to work together to promote the highest quality of services and to ensure consistency of care.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the SWCCN has been working more closely than ever before to ensure the response has been consistent and equitable across the region.

“In addition to the sharing of knowledge, policies and incidents the network has an agreement to share resources such equipment and ensure patients can be transferred when needed.

“During periods of high demand, patients can be moved to neighbouring hospitals, ensuring that no patient is denied a critical care bed if they require one. Critically ill patients may also need transferring to another hospital to receive specialist services, such as neurosurgery or renal dialysis.

“One example of collaborative working under the pressure of COVID-19 is the rapid setting up of a regional transfer service to help move critically ill patients from one hospital to another.

“Transferring patients takes several highly skilled colleagues for a prolonged period of time and can put significant pressure on the system. This new service will improve care for people with COVID-19 meaning that patients can get the critical care bed they require whilst relieving pressure on busy units.