What happens on a PICU

The Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) has treated more than 6000 children since 1992, and many lives have been saved. When the Unit opened in 1992, 30 per cent of children who had meningococcal disease died; today we have one of the lowest rates in the country. None of this would have been possible without support from charitable sources including COSMIC.

Time at St Mary’s children’s intensive care unit can be a tiring and traumatic experience, yet our many amazing staff make sure that every family and patient are treated with the same care for the best experience and outcome possible.  The following is a typical sequence of events that each family and patient might experience on our PICU.


  • Patient arrival, bed identification and allocation
  • Parents greeted and spoken to by nurse, later meet family liason officer
  • Parents are given a pack for hotel if they decide to stay in the area, or offered funds to go home

Once ward staff are made aware of a new admission to the PICU, they are ready and waiting for the arrival from the CATS Ambulance or through St Mary’s Children’s A&E. On arrival, the team set straight to work to officially diagnose and stabilise the patient in their special ICU bed.

Meanwhile nurses help care for the parents at this tense time. Our family liaison Sister Helen Avila, who has worked at St Mary’s for almost 20 years,  is introduced to the family to offer continuous support throughout their stay at St Mary’s children’s wards. The PICU Essentials Pack given to each parent on arrival includes information about PICU, notepad, toothbrushes and toothpaste to help them whilst they stay with us. The parents are also offered lodging in funded hotel rooms nearby, or if they live nearby they can make use of COSMIC’s travel reimbursement scheme.

During stay

  • Equipment used for different cases and for all
  • Parents continue to stay, new furbished room, support from staff and COSMIC. Funded to go home
  • Still celebrate Christmas and birthdays 

When the patient’s condition is diagnosed, special treatment can begin using a variety of additional equipment and medication dependent on their prognosis. For example, a child with multi-organ failure may need support for their kidneys in the form of dialysis or haemofiltration, or intracranial pressure monitoring to ensure that the brain is not damaged. Another patient with severe lung damage may need special types of ventilators, such as high frequency oscillators.  Much of this equipment has been bought, maintained and updated with funding through COSMIC to make sure every child and member of staff has the best equipment possible to help save every patient.

Each child requires different drugs including antibiotics, painkillers and drugs to control hydration. Up to a dozen syringe pumps (costing more than £1,500 each) are often required to administer these drugs at precise frequencies and in exact quantities.

As each child is cared for 24 hours a day by their own nurse, their families are looked after by the ward. They have a constant support system on hand, often with a re-furbished parents’ room filled with comforting food. Parents can continue to stay in funded nearby hotels or travel home at their wish. COSMIC and the PICU staff try to bring some joy and normality to the family, including celebrating patient birthdays and leaving Christmas stockings ready for when a patient recovers.

End of stay/departure 

  • Recoving patient is transported to their local hospital for full recovery
  • Family offered support for next stage of recovery
  • Bereavement support and funeral costs 

The average stay of a child is 5 days, but this can vary significantly from case to case. Once the child is no longer critical and is ready to leave, they are either transported by ambulance to their local hospital or taken to St Mary’s Paediatric Ward if they are from the local catchment area. Here a patient can continue on the road to recovery until they go home. For the parents, time is PICU can be a traumatic experience, and they are offered advice to help their own recovery. COSMIC are also funding further research into post-PICU support, which you can see here.

However, despite the hard work of our amazing staff, not every case ends happily. For these very sad times we have specialist staff on hand to help the families with coping and preparing to say goodbye to their child. COSMIC fund modelling dough so their child’s handprints can be taken away, as well as being able to contribute towards funeral costs for those families in need. We also fund a bereavement councillor to help families cope with their loss. If you are affected by bereavement or loss please see the below organisations who can help you



download (1)

No matter what the outcome, COSMIC and the PICU staff ask all of our past-parents, patients and families to stay in touch if they would like to. We love hearing from everyone, as each person who comes to our special ward has a place in our hearts.