Intensive care: experiences of family & friends

Overnight accommodation

When relatives and close friends are caring for someone who is critically ill in ICU it is very important their own needs are remembered. For many people the long distances which had to be travelled to reach the hospital, and the long hours spent at the bedside, meant that they themselves risked breaking down from exhaustion, not to mention forgetting to eat. In the light of this problem, which was likely to affect many of the relatives who were visiting throughout the day and even at night, there was great appreciation of ICU departments where their needs had been though about. Sometimes accommodation was provided within the hospital or helpful lists of reasonably priced hotels were available.

Some ICUs have limited provision for the overnight stay of relatives in exceptional circumstances. Some people had stayed in the hospital overnight, either because they'd lived a long distance from the hospital or because they'd wanted to be close to the patient. Many had wanted to spend every second with the patient, fearing it might be their last, and had valued being able to stay at the hospital, even if it had been in a chair by the patient's bedside (see 'Suspending normal routines' visiting ICU every day'). 

One woman said she and her husband had come home for one night but had been even more worried then, knowing they might have had to return to ICU at any minute. Many people had slept poorly or hardly at all during this time and those staying at the hospital overnight had often felt unable to leave the patient in case they'd deteriorated or died. One woman said that, on her first night at the hospital, she'd been too worried to sleep, conscious of every sound she'd heard. Another, whose son had a very rare muscle condition and was in a paediatric ICU, said she and her husband stayed in dedicated accommodation for two months, even spending Christmas there. 

Some people had stayed in overnight accommodation with another relative who'd been able to provide support, though one man had stayed alone and had found it extremely traumatic.

Some people had stayed in hospital accommodation for a few days but, when someone else had needed it more, they'd moved to a hotel. Those who lived furthest away and whose loved one was in the most serious situation, had usually been given priority. A few people valued the information they'd been given by hospital staff on finding alternative accommodation. One of these women said she and her family stayed in a nearby hotel for almost three weeks. A few had wished they'd been given a list of suitable accommodation to choose from because, in the midst of such a traumatic event, having to arrange their own accommodation had felt like an added burden (see 'Emotional effects on family and friends in ICU').

Last reviewed May 2015.

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