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On-site intensive care provides reassurance for St George’s patients

July 2019

STG82009 In the Loop Newsletter July 2019 Finalart 13

Intensive care specialists or ‘intensivists’ provide special expertise in potentially life threatening situations.

Dr Seton Henderson, who is one of a team of intensivists working around the clock Wednesdays to Saturdays at St George’s Hospital, says intensive care situations can be complex and dynamic, requiring the ability to think under pressure.

“In intensive care we’re dealing with patients who are unwell or at risk of becoming unwell and their condition can change rapidly. The stakes are high and the decisions we make are really important,” he says.

At St George’s, while most surgical procedures are planned and have predictable outcomes, the intensive care team is ready to step in on the rare occasions something unexpected happens.

As the only private hospital in Christchurch to provide an on-site intensive care unit (ICU), patients and their families have reassurance that they are in highly capable hands if something unpredictable happens. The team supporting them will include a surgical consultant, a dedicated specialist nurse and an intensivist.

Having an on-site ICU at St George’s means the hospital is able to offer a greater range of operations and cater for patients with more complex conditions than other private hospitals which do not offer intensive care.

As well as daily rounds of the wards, the team take turns staying on-site, every week in a dedicated flat in the unit, meaning an intensivist can be immediately responsive to any critical post-operative situations, says Dr Henderson.

“With elective surgery, most of the time things go smoothly and as planned, however unpredictable complications can still arise and these need to be addressed very quickly.”

“Major cardiac and abdominal operations are performed at St George’s, and we also have patients who have other chronic diseases or other factors where having an anaesthetic or a procedure puts them at risk. Our service means patients in these situations are in the right place at the right time, should there be any unforeseen complications.”

Dr Henderson says one of the most important parts of his job is understanding that patients’ families may be experiencing significant emotional distress – sometimes suffering more than the patients themselves, who are just trying to get better.

“I always sit down at the bedside, with the patient and their family and spend some time just talking with them. It’s important to be honest and I also try to help them understand and come to terms with a situation which is going to be a major event in their family’s life story.”

Dr Henderson, who specialised in Internal Medicine before training in Intensive Care Medicine, is also Clinical Director of Intensive Care Services at Christchurch Hospital. He has over 30 years’ experience in intensive care.

The St George’s Intensive Care Specialists have a range of backgrounds and have specialised in either Emergency Medicine, Anaesthesia or Internal Medicine. The nursing team are required to undergo competency training to ensure they have the knowledge and skillset required.

Dr Henderson credits the ability and experience of the entire St George’s and Christchurch Hospital Intensive Care teams, which he says has excelled on a number of occasions – notably the February 2011 earthquake and the aftermath of the recent mosque shootings.

“At St George’s we are fortunate to have a fantastic team of specialists, nurses and support staff, as well as a strong team culture which is really important in caring for sick patients in intensive care,” he says.

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