1 Guidance

The following guidance is based on the best available evidence. The full guideline gives details of the methods and the evidence used to develop the guidance.

The Guideline Development Group (GDG) used the following definitions in this guideline:

  • Short clinical assessment: a brief clinical assessment to identify patients who may be at risk of developing physical and non-physical morbidity.

  • Comprehensive clinical assessment: a more detailed assessment to determine the rehabilitation needs of patients who have been identified as being at risk of developing physical and non-physical morbidity.

  • Functional assessment: an assessment to examine the patient's daily functional ability.

  • Short-term rehabilitation goals: goals for the patient to reach before they are discharged from hospital.

  • Medium-term rehabilitation goals: goals to help the patient return to their normal activities of daily living after they are discharged from hospital.

  • Physical morbidity: problems such as muscle loss, muscle weakness, musculoskeletal problems including contractures, respiratory problems, sensory problems, pain, and swallowing and communication problems.

  • Non-physical morbidity: psychological, emotional and psychiatric problems, and cognitive dysfunction.

  • Multidisciplinary team: a team of healthcare professionals with the full spectrum of clinical skills needed to offer holistic care to patients with complex problems. The team may be a group of people who normally work together or who only work together intermittently.

Key principle of care

1.1 To ensure continuity of care, healthcare professional(s) with the appropriate competencies[1] should coordinate the patient's rehabilitation care pathway. Key elements of the coordination are as follows.

  • Ensure the short-term and medium-term rehabilitation goals are reviewed, agreed and updated throughout the patient's rehabilitation care pathway.

  • Ensure the delivery of the structured and supported self-directed rehabilitation manual, when applicable.

  • Liaise with primary/community care for the functional reassessment at 2–3 months after the patient's discharge from critical care.

  • Ensure information, including documentation, is communicated between hospitals and to other hospital-based or community rehabilitation services and primary care services.

  • Give patients the contact details of the healthcare professional(s) on discharge from critical care, and again on discharge from hospital.

During the critical care stay

1.2 During the patient's critical care stay and as early as clinically possible, perform a short clinical assessment to determine the patient's risk of developing physical and non-physical morbidity (see table 1).

1.3 For patients at risk of physical and non-physical morbidity, perform a comprehensive clinical assessment to identify their current rehabilitation needs. This should include assessments by healthcare professionals experienced in critical care and rehabilitation.

1.4 For patients at risk, agree short-term and medium-term rehabilitation goals, based on the comprehensive clinical assessment. The patient's family and/or carer should also be involved[2].

1.5 The comprehensive clinical assessment and the rehabilitation goals should be collated and documented in the patient's clinical records.

1.6 For patients at risk, start rehabilitation as early as clinically possible, based on the comprehensive clinical assessment and the rehabilitation goals. Rehabilitation should include:

  • measures to prevent avoidable physical and non-physical morbidity, including a review of previous and current medication

  • nutrition support, based on the recommendations in 'Nutrition support in adults' (NICE clinical guideline 32)

  • an individualised, structured rehabilitation programme with frequent follow-up reviews. The details of the structured rehabilitation programme and the reviews should be collated and documented in the patient's clinical records.

1.7 Give patients the following information during their critical care stay. Also give the information to their family and/or carer[2], unless the patient disagrees.

  • Information about the patient's critical illness, interventions and treatments.

  • Information about the equipment used during the patient's critical care stay.

  • If applicable, information about any possible short-term and/or long-term physical and non-physical problems which may require rehabilitation.

    Deliver all the above information more than once during the patient's critical care stay.

Before discharge from critical care

1.8 For patients who were previously identified as being at low risk, perform a short clinical assessment before their discharge from critical care to determine their risk of developing physical and non‑physical morbidity (see table 1).

1.9 For patients at risk, and patients who started the individualised, structured rehabilitation programme in critical care, perform a comprehensive clinical reassessment to identify their current rehabilitation needs. The comprehensive reassessment should pay particular attention to:

  • physical, sensory and communication problems (see table 2)

  • underlying factors, such as pre-existing psychological or psychiatric distress

  • symptoms that have developed during the critical care stay, such as delusions, intrusive memories, anxiety, panic episodes, nightmares, flashback episodes or depression.

1.10 For patients who were previously identified as being at risk during critical care, the outcomes of the comprehensive reassessment should inform the individualised, structured rehabilitation programme (recommendation 1.6).

1.11 For patients at risk, agree or review and update the rehabilitation goals, based on the comprehensive reassessment. The family and/or carer should also be involved, unless the patient disagrees.

1.12 Ensure that the transfer of patients and the formal structured handover of their care are in line with 'Acutely ill patients in hospital' (NICE clinical guideline 50). This should include the formal handover of the individualised, structured rehabilitation programme.

1.13 Give patients the following information before, or as soon as possible after, their discharge from critical care. Also give the information to their family and/or carer, unless the patient disagrees.

  • Information about the rehabilitation care pathway.

  • Information about the differences between critical care and ward-based care. This should include information about the differences in the environment, and staffing and monitoring levels.

  • Information about the transfer of clinical responsibility to a different medical team (this includes information about the formal structured handover of care recommended in 'Acutely ill patients in hospital' (NICE clinical guideline 50).

  • If applicable, emphasise the information about possible short‑term and/or long-term physical and non-physical problems that may require rehabilitation.

  • If applicable, information about sleeping problems, nightmares and hallucinations and the readjustment to ward-based care.

During ward-based care

1.14 For patients who were previously identified as being at low risk before discharge from critical care, perform a short clinical assessment to determine their risk of physical and non‑physical morbidity (see table 1).

1.15 For patients at risk, perform a comprehensive clinical reassessment (see recommendation 1.9) to identify their current rehabilitation needs.

1.16 For patients at risk, offer an individualised, structured rehabilitation programme, based on the comprehensive clinical reassessment[3] and the agreed or updated rehabilitation goals set before the patient was discharged from critical care.

1.17 The individualised, structured rehabilitation programme should be developed and delivered by members of a multidisciplinary team, and should include appropriate referrals, if applicable.

1.18 Based on clinical judgement and the individual patient's rehabilitation needs, consider offering a structured and supported self-directed rehabilitation manual[4] for at least 6 weeks after discharge from critical care, as part of the individualised, structured rehabilitation programme.

1.19 For patients with symptoms of stress related to traumatic incidents and/or memories, refer to 'Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)' (NICE clinical guideline 26) and initiate appropriate preventative strategies.

Before discharge to home or community care

1.20 Before discharging patients who were receiving the individualised structured rehabilitation programme during ward-based care (recommendation 1.15):

  • perform a functional assessment which should include the following physical and non-physical dimensions (also see table 2 for possible examples):

    • physical problems (physical dimension)

    • sensory problems (physical dimension)

    • communication problems (physical dimension)

    • social care or equipment needs (physical dimension)

    • anxiety (non-physical dimension)

    • depression (non-physical dimension)

    • post-traumatic stress-related symptoms (non-physical dimension)

    • behavioural and cognitive problems (non-physical dimension)

    • psychosocial problems (non-physical dimension).

  • assess the impact of the outcomes from the functional assessment on the patient's activities of daily living and participation

  • based on the functional assessment, review, update and agree the rehabilitation goals with the patient. The family and/or carer should be involved if the patient agrees.

1.21 If continuing rehabilitation needs are identified from the functional assessment, ensure that before the patient is discharged:

  • discharge arrangements, including appropriate referrals for the necessary ongoing care, are in place before completing the discharge

  • all discharge documents are completed and forwarded to the appropriate post-discharge services and the patient

  • the patient, and/or the family and/or carer as appropriate, is aware of the discharge arrangements and understands them.

1.22 Give patients the following information before their discharge to home or community care. Also give the information to their family and/or carer, if the patient agrees.

  • Information about their physical recovery, based on the goals set during ward-based care if applicable.

  • If applicable, information about diet and any other continuing treatments.

  • Information about how to manage activities of daily living including self-care and re-engaging with everyday life.

  • If applicable, information about driving, returning to work, housing and benefits.

  • Information about local statutory and non-statutory support services, such as support groups.

  • General guidance, especially for the family and/or carer, on what to expect and how to support the patient at home. This should take into account both the patient's needs and the family's/carer's needs.

  • Give the patient their own copy of the critical care discharge summary.

2–3 months after discharge from critical care

1.23 Review patients with rehabilitation needs 2–3 months after their discharge from critical care. Carry out a functional reassessment of their health and social care needs, using the dimensions in recommendation 1.20. If appropriate, also enquire about sexual dysfunction.

1.24 The functional reassessment should be face to face in the community or in hospital, performed by an appropriately-skilled healthcare professional(s) who is familiar with the patient's critical care problems and rehabilitation care pathway.

1.25 Based on the functional reassessment.

  • Refer the patient to the appropriate rehabilitation or specialist services if:

    • the patient appears to be recovering at a slower rate than anticipated, according to their rehabilitation goals, or

    • the patient has developed unanticipated physical and/or non‑physical morbidity that was not previously identified.

  • Give support if the patient is not recovering as quickly as they anticipated.

  • If anxiety or depression is suspected, follow the stepped care models recommended in 'Anxiety' (NICE clinical guideline 22 [replaced by NICE clinical guideline 113]) and 'Depression' (NICE clinical guideline 23 [replaced by NICE clinical guideline 90]).

  • If PTSD is suspected or the patient has significant symptoms of PTS, refer to 'Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)' (NICE clinical guideline 26).

Table 1 Examples from the short clinical assessment that may indicate the patient is at risk of developing physical and non-physical morbidity

Physical

Unable to get out of bed independently.

Anticipated long duration of critical care stay.

Obvious significant physical or neurological injury.

Lack of cognitive functioning to continue exercise independently.

Unable to self ventilate on 35% of oxygen or less.

Presence of premorbid respiratory or mobility problems.

Unable to mobilise independently over short distances.

Non-physical

Recurrent nightmares, particularly where patients report trying to stay awake to avoid nightmares.

Intrusive memories of traumatic events which have occurred prior to admission (for example, road traffic accidents) or during their critical care stay (for example, delusion experiences or flashbacks).

New and recurrent anxiety or panic attacks.

Expressing the wish not to talk about their illness or changing the subject quickly off the topic.

Note: this list is not exhaustive and healthcare professionals should use their clinical judgement

Table 2 Symptoms from the functional assessment that may indicate the presence of physical and non-physical morbidity

Physical dimensions

Physical problems

Weakness, inability/partial ability to sit, rise to standing, or to walk, fatigue, pain, breathlessness, swallowing difficulties, incontinence, inability/partial ability to self-care.

Sensory problems

Changes in vision or hearing, pain, altered sensation.

Communication problems

Difficulties in speaking or using language to communicate, difficulties in writing.

Social care or equipment needs

Mobility aids, transport, housing, benefits, employment and leisure needs.

Non-physical dimensions

Anxiety, depression and PTS-related symptoms

New or recurrent somatic symptoms including palpitations, irritability and sweating; symptoms of derealisation and depersonalisation; avoidance behaviour; depressive symptoms including tearfulness and withdrawal; nightmares, delusions, hallucinations and flashbacks.

Behavioural and cognitive problems

Loss of memory, attention deficits, sequencing problems, deficits in organisational skills, confusion, apathy, disinhibition, compromised insight.

Other psychological or psychosocial problems

Low-self-esteem, poor or low self-image and/or body image issues, relationship difficulties, including those with the family and/or carer.



[1] The healthcare professional(s) may be intensive care professional(s) or, depending on local arrangements, any appropriately trained healthcare professional(s) from a service (including specialist rehabilitation medicine services) with access to referral pathways and medical support (if not medically qualified).

[2] During the critical care stay, the patient may not gain full consciousness or may not have full capacity to give formal consent. Therefore, the involvement of the family and/or carer is important at this stage.

[3] Comprehensive reassessments apply to both those before discharge from critical care and during ward-based care.

[4] The structured and supported self-directed rehabilitation manual (based on Jones et al. 2003) should be coordinated by an appropriately skilled healthcare professional throughout its duration. The optimal time for starting the structured and supported self-directed rehabilitation manual should be based on individual patients' physical and cognitive capacity at different stages of their illness and recovery.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)