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What is critical care?

Critical care is the specialist care given to patients with sudden and potentially reversible life-threatening diseases or injuries. This can include following accidents, operations, severe infections or a coma. Critical care is divided into two areas; intensive care, where the sickest patients are cared for, and high dependency, where patients who are not well enough to return to general wards are cared for.

About our department

The Department of Critical Care Medicine (DCCM) is one of the leading critical care units in New Zealand, located on the 8th floor of Auckland City Hospital. We provide intensive and high-dependency care for patients over the age of 15 for all conditions except heart, lung and blood vessel surgery. Our specialist areas of intensive care include liver, kidney and pancreas transplantation and neurological conditions. Intensive care for heart, lung and vascular surgery is provided by the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Intensive Care Unit.

The unit is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is staffed by a large team of experienced doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. We have 24 beds in total - 18 are open bed spaces, and the remaining 6 are isolation side rooms.

We have over 1400 admissions per year of which 75% are emergency and 25% elective. The median length of stay in DCCM is 1.5 days, however, patients may require a prolonged stay.

Patients may be admitted to Critical Care from the emergency department, hospital wards, operating theatre or following transfer from another hospital or intensive care unit.

Our team

DCCM is staffed by a team of highly experienced and professional doctors and nurses who are supported by other healthcare professionals including physiotherapists, dietitians, pharmacists, radiographers and biomedical technicians.

Medical care is provided by specialist doctors trained to look after very ill patients (intensivists), and supported by doctors training to be specialists in intensive care, anaesthesia, emergency medicine, internal medicine and surgery.

Many nurses are specialised through post-graduate training and qualifications in intensive care. Patients requiring intensive care treatment have individual nurses caring for them. High-dependency patients are cared for by nurses who are also looking after other patients.

History of intensive care medicine

Modern intensive care medicine began with the use of prolonged artificial ventilation during the poliomyelitis epidemics of the 1950s and the recognition that the intensive nursing care necessary to treat these patients successfully was best provided in a separate area of the hospital with its own staff, equipment, and organisation.

Intensive care began early in New Zealand – it seems likely that Dr Matthew Spence began the first intensive care unit in the southern hemisphere in 1958 at Auckland Hospital. The Department of Critical Care Medicine (DCCM) is the descendant of that first ICU. The special requirements of the work and attributes of its practitioners led to the founding of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS) by Dr Spence and Dr Wright from Sydney in 1975.