Intensive care research

Photo of four female doctors and nurses wearing blue scrubs, white aprons, face masks and face shields

As a specialist hospital, GOSH doesn't have an Accident & Emergency department but this doesn’t mean that children here are not in need of urgent care.

For those in immediate need, there is a specialist team of intensive care professionals who lead research and incorporate new findings into their work in innovative ways. The team includes doctors, nurses, data managers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, psychologists, dietitians and mathematicians, to name just a few.

Intensive care covers all manner of conditions, diseases and specialties. Whether caring for a child after a heart transplant or providing support to a child receiving experimental gene therapy, researchers in intensive care must try and find the interventions that can make a difference in a group of patients that may seem to have nothing in common beyond the severity of their need.

Due to the nature of this work, intensive care research often spans across hospitals, across the UK and across international borders – a true team effort to recruit large numbers of patients through multiple hospitals and study sites. We have played a major leadership and recruitment role in international paediatric intensive care trials for many years.

Intensive care research at GOSH

Intensive care, by its very name, may suggest that all patients need intensive treatment, all of the time. But ongoing research at GOSH is starting to uncover how being more gentle with our treatments can improve recovery, benefitting patients and creating a more effective and efficient ward.

For example, the Oxy–PICU trial, led by Professor Mark Peters, explored how patients may benefit from using less extra oxygen for breathing in the world's largest trial with children in intensive care. They found that a slight lowering of oxygen actually led to patients doing better - being discharged sooner or having a better chance of survival. Supporting our most vulnerable patients through this research is crucial but this work will also lead to nationwide cost savings in the NHS, and more beds being available for our critically ill children.

In another collaborative project called SANDWICH, led from Queen’s Hospital in Belfast, the team has looked at how best to help bring patients off sedation and pain relief. They found that a structured approach, centred around nurse–led care, is the best way to support children to come off ventilation. Within months, the recommendations from this study were already in place in two–thirds of UK paediatric intensive care units – immediately benefitting children in need.

The research team are also interested in how they can improve the long–term outcomes of their patients and recently led a study by Dr Kate Brown that looked at complications for children after heart surgery. This gives much better support and a deeper understanding than merely looking at survival.

Lauran O'Neill, Senior Research Nurse, GOSH.

As a research team here at GOSH, we worked incredibly hard to recruit patients to the SANDWICH study, which demonstrated the importance of bedside nursing input for reducing ventilator hours. Managing a study like this across three busy ICUs is very complex and requires a lot of resource from everyone. However, to see the positive outcome for the patients at the end of the study made it very worthwhile!

Lauran O'Neill, Critical Care Research Nurse

A responsive and embedded team

Due to the agile nature of the intensive care team at GOSH, in 2020 they were able to support intensive care research into the SARS– CoV–2 virus, working on urgent national and international public health studies on patients hospitalised with coronavirus–related illness, and looking for biomarkers to work out who might be most affected.

The Unit Every child that is admitted to the intensive care unit at GOSH is carefully screened to see if there is a research programme they could benefit from and, with the advent of digital technology and the close involvement of the Children’s Acute Transport Service (CATS) in research, this sometimes happens before the children make it through our doors.

Once at the hospital, the intensive care research team is physically based on the intensive care unit, allowing research best practice and training to inform and improve a child’s care at any time, day or night.

Under the expert care of often nurse–led teams, we are changing paediatric intensive care practice.