Objectives: To establish priorities for research in critical care medicine in the UK using survey and nominal group (NG) techniques.
Design: The senior doctor and nurse from 325 intensive care units (ICUs) in the UK were invited to contribute up to ten research questions relevant to intensive care organisation, practice or outcomes. These were then ranked twice using a Likert scale by a panel (nominal group) consisting of ten doctors (two trainees) and two nurses from university teaching and district general (community) hospitals. The first ratings were performed privately, and the second after group discussion. Thirty questions, ten each with strong, moderate or weak support, were then returned for rating by the originating ICU staff and the results compared with those of the NG.
Results: One hundred eighty-five respondents (35.6 % university teaching, 62.1% district general, 2.3 % not stated) provided 811 questions of which 722 were research hypotheses. The most frequently identified topics were the evaluation of high dependency care, ICU characteristics, treatments for acute lung injury and acute renal failure, nurse:patient ratios, pulmonary artery catheterisation, aspects of medical and nursing practice, protocol evaluation, and interhospital transfers. These were condensed into 100 topics for consideration by the NG. Discussion and re-rating by the group resulted in strong support being offered for 37 topics, moderate support for 48, and weak support for 21. Following circulation of ten questions from each category, nine questions achieved strong support from both ICU staff and the NG. These were the effect on outcomes from critical illness of early intervention, high dependency care, nurse:patient ratios, interhospital transfers, early enteral feeding, optimisation of perioperative care, hospital type, regionalisation of paediatric intensive care and the use of pulmonary artery catheters. The absence of any questions relating to interventions targetting mediators of the immuno-inflammatory response could be a consequence of the failure of recent studies in sepsis to demonstrate benefits in outcome.
Conclusions: The intensive care community in the UK appears to prioritise research into organisational aspects of clinical practice and practical aspects of organ-system support. Health services research and the biological sciences need to develop collaborative methods for evaluating interventions and outcomes.